How on-demand food delivery apps could encourage low-carbon food

June 8, 2020 by  
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How on-demand food delivery apps could encourage low-carbon food Anna Zhang Mon, 06/08/2020 – 02:00 The COVID-19 crisis has affected most aspects of daily life, including how we get our food. Because the COVID-19 response has restricted restaurants to pick-up and delivery orders in many areas, business for on-demand food delivery apps such as DoorDash, Grubhub, Seamless and Uber Eats has increased dramatically.  Uber Eats claims to have experienced a tenfold increase in new restaurant signups, and some local restaurants say the percentage of orders placed through third-party apps has risen from around 20 percent to roughly 75 percent .  Even before the COVID era, food order and delivery apps were growing rapidly, and the sector was on track to more than double in value by 2025 — from $82 billion in 2018 to $200 billion by 2025. Projections showed that by 2023 about one-quarter of smartphone users , or 14 million Americans, will use these apps.  For the environmentally minded, the increased adoption of app-based food delivery services presents a unique opportunity to affect carbon emissions in the food supply chain. One of the leading climate change solutions is the widespread adoption of a plant-rich diet, particularly in countries with a more “Western” diet. Adopting these habits has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 66 gigatonnes CO2-equivalent, according to Project Drawdown. Compared to business as usual, choosing vegan options could reduce emissions by as much as 70 percent . Third-party food delivery apps offer a valuable opportunity to connect consumers to the knowledge they need to adopt a climate-friendly diet.  We believe that food delivery apps can implement some basic features to help consumers be more aware of the environmental impact of their food choices. While systematic change in food production at all levels is necessary to achieve goals for carbon emission reductions, influencing consumer behavior to shift towards low-carbon food options has the power to simultaneously encourage food producers up the supply chain to reduce the carbon impact of their offerings, while also empowering consumers to reduce their own personal carbon footprints. A recent study in Science magazine noted that “dietary change can deliver environmental benefits on a scale not achievable by producers.” However, a major roadblock is the lack of transparency surrounding the carbon impacts of food.  Many consumers recognize that animal products have some negative impact on the planet, yet most don’t truly know the extent to which meat consumption can drastically increase carbon emissions.  Indeed, according to a recent study by the Yale Center on Climate Change Communications, about half of surveyed Americans (51 percent) would be willing to eat a more plant-based, low-carbon diet if they had more information about how their food choices affected the environment. Through a six-week climate innovation program at Yale , we envisioned two ways that on-demand food delivery apps could empower their users to make more climate-friendly food choices. We based our idea off a successful project at Yale demonstrating the effectiveness of environmental impact ratings on consumers — in this case, students at Yale’s dining halls. Rate the Plate is an initiative designed by current Yale students through which dining halls display posters containing the calculated range estimates for the amount of carbon emissions from each available entree. After running both a small-scale pilot and then expanding to all Yale residential colleges, the organizers had students complete a survey to analyze the effectiveness of the posters and ratings. The results show that 62 percent of students had a positive response when asked if they reconsidered their food choices after seeing the ratings.  Additionally, when asked if they would like to continue seeing the environmental impact posters in the dining halls, more than 86 percent of students said yes.  The results of this project inspired us to consider other ways to empower consumers to make climate-friendly food choices. We believe that food delivery apps can implement some basic features to help consumers be more aware of the environmental impact of their food choices.  First, food order and delivery companies can create short monthly quizzes for users to test their knowledge about the carbon impacts of various food options. An interactive, visually appealing quiz can inform consumers about how their own food choices can affect the planet as a whole. Positive messaging alongside discounts or other incentives can encourage users to take the quizzes and act on the information they learn.  For example, online consignment retailer ThredUp already runs an online quiz that consumers can take to determine their environmental impacts in the apparel sector. Additionally, companies could implement carbon labeling within their order menu interface. There are various existing methods to estimate and label the carbon emissions associated with food dishes, but a simple number or range of carbon equivalents would allow consumers to compare meal options within the app.  Using color coding or symbols such as trees to indicate high- and low-carbon footprint items also would be a non-obtrusive way to represent the information. The methodology could be explained in one of the quizzes released each month so consumers feel that they have both easy-to-read and accurate data. Order and delivery apps could include discounts for consumers opting into low-carbon food selections. What’s in it for companies such as DoorDash and Snackpass?  Companies would be able to analyze the data on these strategies to fulfill internal corporate sustainability metrics on reducing GHG emissions, and such information could be advertised to demonstrate the company’s drive and success in sustainability compared to competing apps.  There is growing demand for sustainable business practices and purchasing options, especially among younger consumers . Being known as a climate-friendly option in the food-delivery ecosystem likely will be a selling point for many companies. If food delivery apps implemented these various features, tracking the environmental impact would be relatively straightforward because it relies on digital technology and data collection. By looking at the number of people taking the carbon-impact quiz every month, companies could get a sense of the reach of these efforts among their customers. Eventually, they also could use the consumer order data to look for significant shifts in the carbon impacts of dishes people order.  What’s the role for restaurants?  While the relationships between restaurants and food delivery apps sometimes can be contentious , restaurants could benefit from advertising themselves as a climate-friendly option.  Restaurants would provide information about the ingredients lists of their dishes, allowing food delivery apps to calculate carbon impacts. As previously mentioned, discounts are offered to consumers who take the food carbon quizzes, which can help restaurants draw in new customers as well as highlight some of their vegan and vegetarian options. Ideally, there would be a shift towards vegetable-based options and away from meat-heavy dishes after the carbon ratings and quizzes are implemented, which would demonstrate a positive impact on consumer decisions in terms of carbon emissions. This data from before and after the intervention also could be used to create a baseline to calculate how many kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions were avoided due to lower demand for meat-heavy dishes.  As food-delivery apps continue to gain popularity over the next decade, integrating information about the climate impact of food options has the potential to address the large impact the food-supply chain has on carbon emissions. This information gives consumers power in their food choices and allows food-delivery apps to demonstrate climate-friendly values. Pull Quote We believe that food delivery apps can implement some basic features to help consumers be more aware of the environmental impact of their food choices. Contributors Tracy Zhou Luke Browne Abbey Warner Topics Food Systems Innovation Technology E-commerce Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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U.S. rabbit populations contend with lethal virus, RHDV2

May 22, 2020 by  
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Wildlife  officials recently announced outbreaks of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type 2 (RHDV2) ravaging Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California. The  U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  deems RHDV2 as seriously contagious and nearly always fatal amongst domestic and wild rabbit species and their close relatives, hares and pikas. RHDV2 is not zoonotic, so it won’t infect livestock, pets or humans, asserts the  California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) . Still,  Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPW)  advise against pets consuming rabbit carcasses. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is the viral agent causing rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD).  Science Direct  says RHDV belongs in the calicivirus family, which infects many  animals  including pigs, cattle, cats and even humans. Norovirus, for example, is a human calicivirus. But humans seem unaffected by RHDV.  Related:  What’s causing the decline in monarch butterfly populations? There are two worrisome strains of RHDV — RHDV1 and RHDV2.  House Rabbit Society ,  Veterinary Practice , as well as both the Vaccine and Veterinary Research  journals document RHDV1 as first emerging in China back in 1984, when, in just one year, 140 million rabbits were decimated. China claims that the outbreak started in Angora rabbits imported from Europe. Eventually, RHDV1 spread to over 40 countries and hit the U.S. in 2000. Given its estimated 95% mortality rate, Australia and New Zealand notoriously introduced RHDV1 into their wild rabbit populations as pest biocontrol. RHDV1 mutated, begetting RHDV2, which was first identified in 2010 when domesticated rabbits in France showed clinical signs of RHD despite being already vaccinated against RHDV1. By September 2018, RHDV2 reached the U.S., manifesting among domestic rabbits in a rural Ohio farm, documents the  Veterinary Information Network (VIN) News Service . The USDA considers both RHDV1 and RHDV2 invasive pathogens, as they are not native to North America. A  joint paper  put forth by the Center for Food Security & Public Health , Institute for International Cooperation in Animal Biologics, Iowa State University, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the USDA revealed RHD can be difficult to eradicate. Not only can the virus strains survive over seven months on rabbit carcasses, but they also withstand temperatures below freezing and above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  House Rabbit Society  cites several differences between RHDV1 and RHDV2. Incubation is two to 10 days for RHDV1, but three to nine days for RHDV2. Rabbits with RHDV2 can be asymptomatic yet spread the virus for up to two months. There is no known cure for either strain. While a vaccine exists for RHDV1, there are currently no USDA -licensed vaccines for RHDV2. That RHDV2 can “potentially surviv[e] more than 3 months without a host” has prompted some U.S. veterinarians to import RHDV2 vaccines despite a convoluted process. The  USDA  and  VIN News Service  warn RHD is highly contagious, spreading easily by direct contact with rabbit excretions and secretions — saliva, sweat and biowaste. Sharing food, water, bedding, fomites and vehicles spreads RHD. Other vectors are infected rabbit meat, pelts, even insects. Besides farmers and pet owners, biologists and  conservationists  are worried about this virus. As declining rabbit populations have repercussions in  habitat  food chains, RHDV2 could cause severe consequences down the line. + Veterinary Information Network (VIN) News Service Via USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and House Rabbit Society Images via Pexels

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U.S. rabbit populations contend with lethal virus, RHDV2

PaperTale app shows the ethics and sustainability of clothing with a simple scan

November 22, 2019 by  
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It’s often difficult to be a conscientious consumer. Even with the best intentions, we often just don’t have the information we need to make a truly informed decision. Sure we can observe and avoid excess packaging , but it’s challenging to get a deeper dive into the origin of materials or how employees at a plant halfway around the globe are treated. These are issues that inspired PaperTale, an app that provides information about the origin and production of certain products. The inspiration for PaperTale came to Swedish creator Bilal Bhatti after more than 15 years of witnessing the atrocities associated with fast fashion, such as worker exploitation and environmental pollution . Knowing how toxic the textile industry is to the planet and workers, he created a smart tag that allows tracking of the product through every stage of material sourcing, manufacturing and transport. Related: Good Clothing releases capsule collection made from hemp and organic cotton The smart tag provides transparency of the process so consumers can see the tale of the clothing they purchase. Traceability is achieved as businesses provide information at each stage of the process. Suppliers and buyers must register and verify each transaction independently of each other for a more comprehensive and authentic picture of the product supply chain. This information allows PaperTale to calculate an environmental footprint of the product that shows water usage and carbon emissions . Once manufacturing begins, employee hours are also tracked to ensure a fair working wage . For complete transparency, employees have access to their worker logs, via a kiosk within the factory or the app on their phones, to verify hours are properly recorded. All of the information gathered from all sources is stored using blockchain technology to enhance transparency and prevent users from manipulating the data. With a simple scan of the embedded smart tag using a smartphone, consumers can see the employees who made the garment and read their feedback about wages and working conditions . In addition, consumers can tip workers directly through the app and even contribute to crowdfund educational programs for workers or their children. PaperTale is currently campaigning on Kickstarter with a goal of just over $103,000. Rewards for pledges include clothing along with the PaperTale technology. The campaign ends December 13, 2019 with production set to begin in January if it is fully funded. + PaperTale Images via PaperTale

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High-tech wetsuit protects divers and surfers from toxic elements in the oceans

November 6, 2019 by  
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With ocean waters being polluted at an astonishing rate, swimmers, divers and surfers are putting their lives at risk simply by entering the water. Vissla and Surfrider have collaborated on a slightly depressing solution aimed to keep water-lovers safe. The Rising Seas Wetsuit is a high-tech body suit that uses nanotechnology to block the absorption of any harmful pollutants in the water. Additionally, Nitrile pads on the stomach, elbows and knees help surfers maintain their grip on the board, even in seriously slimy conditions. Unfortunately, despite concerted efforts around the world to stave off any more damage, oceans are becoming suffocated with harmful bacteria, viruses, algal blooms, oil spills, trash — you name it. It is becoming common practice to close beaches due to the presence of harmful bacteria. Related: Yves Béhar recycles wetsuits and boat sails into ocean-friendly bags The innovative wetsuit is designed to allow divers and surfers to enjoy the waters, no matter how toxic they become . According to the design team, the Rising Seas Wetsuit includes a built-in bio-defense system that offers an impenetrable level of protection to the wearer while they are in the water. The futuristic wetsuit is made out of an Anti-R material that uses nanotechnology to block the absorption of harmful pollutants. The suit includes sensors that monitor the water conditions for bacteria levels, radiation and overall toxicity. All of this information is displayed on a digital LED display that is controlled by a touchscreen control panel on the forearm. The system allows swimmers and divers to access information easily and set preferences, such as alerts for extreme conditions. It also comes with satellite GPS services that provide location-based swell charts and current weather information. According to Vissla, the wetsuit is in the concept stages, and the team emphasized that this is a project they “never want to make a reality.” But its design is meant to draw attention to the extremely urgent issue of ocean pollution and rising sea levels . + Vissla + Surfrider Via Uncrate Images via Vissla

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High-tech wetsuit protects divers and surfers from toxic elements in the oceans

New app could save Puget Sound whales from boat strikes

October 4, 2019 by  
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Boat strikes are a major cause of injury and death for whales. This week, Washington State Ferries implemented a whale report alert system ( WRAS ) app that notifies ferry captains of the whereabouts of orcas and other cetaceans in Puget Sound to help prevent collisions. The app, created by Ocean Wise Research in Vancouver , British Columbia, is only for use by commercial maritime operations, including ships, ferries and tugboats. But the app relies on members of the public reporting real-time whale sightings. Once a trusted observer spots a whale, dolphin or porpoise, they submit the siting to the app. The siting is verified, then the app alerts commercial mariners on the water within 10 miles of the siting. Staff at the ops center can also receive an alert and communicate it to nearby vessels. Related: 14 apps to help you live a more sustainable lifestyle Armed with this information, ferry captains will be able to make better decisions about their courses and speed to avoid collisions with marine animals. Mariners can leave feedback in the app, reporting any mitigation actions they took. “Because we operate our 22 ferries on Puget Sound and manage 20 terminals on its shores, we have an obligation to ensure WSF is doing everything we can to protect our environment, including marine life,” said Amy Scarton, assistant secretary for Washington State Ferries . WSF is the country’s largest ferry system, transporting nearly 25 million passengers every year. The ferries run between Anacortes, the San Juan Islands, Port Townsend and other Washington towns. According to NOAA Fisheries , blue, fin, humpback and gray whales are the West Coast’s whale species that are most vulnerable to ship strikes, because shipping traffic is heavy between Los Angeles /Long Beach and Seattle. Whales migrate along the West Coast and often use the coastal area for feeding. In May, a juvenile humpback whale breached three minutes into a ferry run from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. The ferry struck — and presumably killed — the whale. Developers of the WRAS app hope that the alert system can help avoid similar tragedies in the future. + Washington State Ferries Image via C. Emmons / NOAA Fisheries / Oregon State University

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New app could save Puget Sound whales from boat strikes

Babylegs the inexpensive, educational way to monitor ocean plastic pollution

August 14, 2019 by  
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Plastic pollution is a frequent topic around the planet, especially when referencing marine life and water pollution. Microplastics can’t be seen by the naked eye but are showing up in water tests nearly everywhere. Do you have plastic in your nearby waterway? If you want to find out, you can collect a sample for testing using Babylegs, a trawl for monitoring ocean plastic. Currently fully funded on Kickstarter, Babylegs was introduced by Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), a self-proclaimed feminist and anti-colonial marine science laboratory. CLEAR is working on the project in conjunction with another organization called Public Lab, a community that develops open source tools in the hopes of motivating community involvement. Together, the groups aim to provide tools the public can use to help gather information about environmental quality issues. Related: New line of men’s swimwear is made from recycled ocean plastic Babylegs offers a simple design and is sourced from inexpensive and recycled materials. It’s a do-it-yourself kit that you put together before use. This isn’t the product of a company looking to make a profit. Babylegs is a tool that the company wants to provide to as many people as can use it, inexpensively and efficiently. With the easy-to-source materials, anyone can put together Babylegs, including classrooms of students. The basic supply list is baby leggings, a water bottle, sandpaper, a drill, scissors, rope, a plumber’s clamp and a screwdriver. With these few supplies, plus some in the kit and some provided by you (like the water bottle), you can make your Babylegs and head out to the closest body of water In addition to providing the Babylegs kits, the company has a goal to facilitate education regarding plastics in the water. The concept is that an increased number of people taking and evaluating samples will provide a larger database of water plastic information that everyone can rely on. Of course, making the Babylegs and collecting the water sample with a simple trawl behind a boat or from a boat, bridge or dock is the easy part. The science comes in through the evaluation of the data you collect, so the kit helps with that, too. According to the Kickstarter campaign, “The activity guides included with this kit are divided into sections on building the BabyLegs trawl, deploying BabyLegs in the water, processing the sample in a kitchen, school or laboratory, where plastics are sorted from organics and finally forensically analyzing the microplastics so you can learn about pollution in your waters.” The idea is solely focused on information and education, so there’s nothing fancy about the product. Instead, most of the components are from recycled materials and many are reusable at the end of the Babylegs lifecycle. Kits are shipped in fully recyclable packaging that is also reused when possible. + Babylegs Images via Public Lab and Max Liboiron / CLEAR Lab

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How to pull off a tech-free family vacation the whole family will enjoy

May 1, 2019 by  
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It’s a full-blown modern challenge to get through even an hour of the day without using technology. So considering a tech-free trip for the entire family may seem insurmountable. While we acknowledge that there will likely be some discomfort at times, we’re happy to report that it’s certainly attainable. Here are some tips to get you headed in the right direction towards a tech-free family vacation. Preparations We are so accustomed to having technology at our fingertips that you might have to remind the people in your life that you will be checking out. Provide an alternate phone number, like that of the hotel, if necessary. Also let family and friends know you’ll be off-grid so they don’t wonder why you haven’t responded to their text. If you plan to cheat with an occasional phone-on check in, at least remove email push from your phone so you’re not tempted to scroll through. Create a meeting point Not all things about technology are bad, but you might not realize how much you rely on it so it’s important to think ahead. You won’t be able to simply throw out the, “Where are you?” text. If your group is going to be separated for any reason, make sure you have a plan for meeting up again. Divide and conquer in the grocery store and meet by the checkout, for example. If you’re at an amusement park, zoo or museum, pick a time and place to meet. Paper maps Nope, we’re not kidding. Generations of successful roadtrips have spawned from the use of paper maps so there’s no reason not to make them your go-to navigation guide. Plus, map reading is always a good skill to brush up on and is something you’ve likely never taught your kids how to do. Grab road maps for any area you’ll be traveling and pick up city maps and attraction maps when you reach your destination. Visit your local Chamber of Commerce and that at the destination for information that you’re otherwise tempted to find on your phone. Related: Kin Travel is offering unique vacation ideas that benefit destinations through conservation and sustainability Road games If you’re older than twenty, you likely remember playing games with your family on road trips that didn’t require a board, dice or cards. Contrary to current norms, family trips without DVD players, phones or iPads can still equal a good time. Teach your kids the art of identifying each letter of the alphabet on road signs. Play 20 questions or engage in Ispy. It’s also a good time to list those items for your next trip using the alphabet (I’m going on a camping trip and I’m taking…). For older children, start a story and pass the storyline along with each person contributing to the plot. For younger children, create a bag of surprises before your trip. Each 100 miles or when you cross state lines or once an hour, introduce a new activity. This can include small containers of finger dough, jigsaw puzzles, word puzzles or toys (non-electronic of course!) Board games Often times, voids in activity lead to mindless swiping of the cell phones. Instead of engaging in online game play, engage with each other. Be sure to bring along board games for in-between activities at the hotel and smaller versions for the car rides. Handheld card games work well for this. Ask a local In the old days, mom and dad had to stop and ask for directions when they couldn’t find their way. The waitress at the diner and the clerk at the store are still strong resources for this information when you decide to go tech-free. Plus, you can ask about the best place to pick up a pizza without relying on Yelp. Wear a watch Speaking of time, it’s likely that you also rely on your phone to know what time it is. Plan ahead by wearing a watch or identify clocks in the space you’re to help keep you manage your time. Go remote If you don’t trust your ability to to go tech-free, plan a vacation that takes the decision out of your hands. Head into remote areas where you don’t receive cell service and enjoy the solitude of nature . Once the kids stop whining that their phone’s don’t work, they’ll discover the simple pleasures of stacking rocks and skipping rocks. Teach them fire building, take them on a hike or take them backpacking where they can learn map and compass, fishing and how to filter water. Take an alarm clock Hopefully your vacation doesn’t require you to rise early or be anywhere at a specific time, but it’s a good idea to throw in a small alarm clock, both so that you know the time and so you don’t need to rely on a phone for your alarm. Use long math Education never ends, and not toting a phone means not having a calculator at your disposal. That makes for a good opportunity to calculate tips, percentage off deals and admission totals the old fashioned way. It will feel strange at first to eliminate the technology in your life for a few valuable days, but in the end you will achieve more quality time and true engagement without electronic distraction. After all, isn’t that what a vacation should be about? Via Matador Network Images via t_watanabe , Shutterstock

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Congress reports U.S. will lose $54 billion annually to storms

May 1, 2019 by  
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A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office predicts an alarming $54 billion in hurricane and flood damage over the next few years — much of which can be avoided by spending money upfront to protect and prevent against losses. The frequency of what are called “billion-dollar storms” appear to be increasing. In 2018, there were 39 “billion-dollar” disasters around the world — 16 of which were in the U.S. Already in the first four months of 2019, the U.S. has endured winter storms Quiana and Ulmer, and each one caused more than a billion dollars  in damage to infrastructure and homes. The new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) focuses on hurricanes, which are the mostly costly natural disasters according to NOAA. Since 1980, tropical cyclones have caused a combined $927.5 billion in damages and are also the most expensive individual storm events in both financial cost and lives lost. Related: Low-income housing in flood zones traps families in harm’s way Of the annual losses predicted by the CBO, $34 billion is estimated in damage to homes, plus $12 billion for the public sector and $9 billion for private businesses. The direct cost to taxpayers is estimated at approximately $17 billion per year. However, the CBO report also underscores several preventive actions that could significantly reduce these costs. By some analyses , mitigation measures (such as flood prevention or watershed protection) could save Americans $6 dollars in losses for every $1 spent in preparation. Solutions to mitigate hurricane damage The following suggestions from the report include environmental and policy-level recommendations to reduce loss in infrastructure and lives from tropical storms and hurricanes. Reduce carbon emissions Hurricanes, and their rising frequency and intensity, are intricately tied to climate change . Increasing temperatures melt glaciers and cause sea level rise, which leads to higher storm surge levels and more destructive flooding. The rising temperatures have also been linked to increased rainfall. Climate change is a result of greenhouse gas emissions; therefore,  reducing emissions would slow and prevent some of the future damage caused by intense storms and extreme flooding. One primary way to reduce emissions, according to the CBO, is by expanding cap-and-trade programs. These programs incentivize companies to keep emissions below designated thresholds and allow the purchasing of emission credits between companies that pollute less and companies that pollute more. However, the CBO also acknowledges that limiting emissions may negatively impact the economy by increasing the cost of goods and services and reducing jobs. Likewise, the CBO argues that such strategies must be enforced at a global scale, otherwise corporations will relocate to countries that allow unfettered pollution. Increase funding for flood mapping The weather is changing, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is struggling to keep up. Rapid urban development in wetlands and flood zones, combined with sea level rise and erosion, are changing the landscape of flood risk. The scale of this need is overwhelming — in 2018, FEMA spent $452 million on flood mapping and data collection, but it was nowhere near enough. Expand flood insurance coverage Flood insurance agencies need accurate spatial data and maps in order to adequately provide coverage, charge appropriate rates and adequately inform the public about their specific risks. Most people simply do not buy flood insurance and of those that do, 25 percent drop their plan within the first year. More accurate data and delineated risk zones can help inform residents of their direct risks and incentivize homeowners to implement mitigation measure, such as relocating heating and cooling equipment above of the predicted flood level. Accurate risk data will also help justify changes for long-standing insurance policy holders who have been “grandfathered” into plans that grossly underestimated their vulnerability before climate science and spatial mapping were widely available. An estimated 20 percent of insurance policy holders are paying rates lower than their appropriate risk level, which is good news for the policy holder up until a storm hits and they are in need of benefits that correspond to the damage they endured. Encourage local and state governments to share recovery costs When the president declares a disaster emergency, municipalities receive federal dollars to provide basic needs and support recovery efforts. Though the federal government plans to ramp up funding for preventive measures, such as sea walls, the CBO believes that if local and state governments had to foot more of the bill, they would be more inclined to enforce important mitigation policy . For example, if local and state governments expected to have to pay for damage to infrastructure, they would be more strict about limiting new development in flood zones — something they have more power to control from a local level. The message is clear — mitigation efforts are worth every penny. The National Weather Service already predicted more severe flooding this hurricane season than previous years. As evidence piles up in favor of mitigation, the only question remaining is ‘where do we start?’ + CBO Via The Weather Channel Image via Raquel M  and Pamela Andrade ( 1 , 2 )

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Congress reports U.S. will lose $54 billion annually to storms

Disaster-resilient housing saves lives and dollars

April 25, 2019 by  
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When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, the Raloso family hid in their bathroom while their house collapsed around them. 4,000 of their neighbors died. The Raloso’s invested in rebuilding stronger and when Typhoon Rammasun hit just a year later, the World Bank reported the family “rode out the storm in their disaster-resilient house — along with 17 of their neighbors who took shelter there.” A World Bank report, Build Back Better, promises massive savings in dollars and lives by retrofitting existing houses to withstand disasters before they happen. The report assessed 149 countries, which covers 95 percent of the world’s population, and more than 30 percent savings by building houses stronger, faster and more equitably. Natural disasters cost the U.S. over $200 billion in 2017 alone, so 30 percent in potential savings is a promise that cannot be ignored. Related: Installing Retrofit Wall Insulation Low income housing should be the priority When disasters hit, families often suffer what the World Bank calls a “double tragedy”— the loss of loved ones and the loss of their most valuable and sometimes only asset— their home. Without this asset, many people cannot access loans to rebuild and do not have any form of shelter or stability. Alarmingly, many affordable housing programs incentivize the segregation of low-income families into vulnerable areas, such as flood plains in Texas , despite the fact that these same communities require costly government aid after disasters strike. Their disproportionate vulnerability and lack of capacity to recover means low-income people are hit the worst during disasters— further exacerbating poverty and dismantling affordable housing reforms within minutes. What is retrofitting? Retrofitting or rehabilitating houses looks different depending on the type of building, region and expected disasters. In flood-prone areas, contractors may suggest elevating the house or improving the septic system. After Hurricane Ivan hit the Caribbean island of Grenada, many families used recovery funds to build hurricane-resilient roofing that utilizes stronger braces and a faceted design that doesn’t catch the wind. In the US, the nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners uses lessons from Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina to encourage proactive retrofitting and to ensure current recovery efforts in Texas and Puerto Rico prioritize resilience —  rather than simply building back what was destroyed. “The return on investment for taxpayers is that these households will need less support after an event. Disasters are very expensive and it is more expensive to repair housing after an event than before. There are fewer contractors, they charge more, there’s limited temporary housing,” explains Laurie Schoeman, Senior Program Director for Resilience Initiatives at Enterprise. Research is increasingly pointing to energy efficiency as a critical ingredient to retrofitting and rehabilitation. Not only will high performing, energy efficient buildings provide cost savings to residents, they also have the infrastructure to ride out the aftermath of storms when power is down and attention is on urgent needs such as water, medical supplies and food. Resilience and equity Despite the benefits, retrofitting is often not an affordable option in slums, housing projects or low-income areas. Around the world, poor people are forced to live in susceptible areas that are undesirable by those who can afford a safer choice. As the World Bank’s blogpost explains, poor people “trade livability for opportunity— by living in flood-prone, landslide-prone or other at-risk areas for access to jobs and services.” Additionally, poor people throughout the world are more likely to build their own homes, many of which are not to code. The World Bank’s report argues these same homes could withstand hurricanes and earthquakes with just a few improvements. Most governments steer clear of informal, substandard housing, but the World Bank contends that this ignorance is costing governments millions of dollars in aid after disasters. In the U.S., Enterprise Community Partners focuses on connecting home and building owners to grants and loans for retrofitting and rehabilitation. “The key to working with low income households in terms of resilience and rehab is providing a comprehensive source of funding. Anything short of that and it’s not affordable,” Laurie Schoeman told Inhabitat. Enterprise also produces manuals and toolkits to help homeowners, contractors and others understand the best methods to assess and improve resilient housing. According to the World Bank, technology is also helping to make such assessments easier and cheaper than ever. Drones and drive-by cameras can identify highly-vulnerable areas to target for intervention. Connecting this technology with community experts who know local materials, practices and cultures is essential. Recovery grants can be combined with existing housing programs to offer affordable loans and subsidies that refocus government resources on resilient infrastructure for the most vulnerable populations. “We have a lot of funding coming into communities,” Laurie Schoeman told Inhabitat, “but unless it’s going toward resilience we will be back in the same place. Let’s get these communities the information and resources they need to build forward .” + The World Bank Images via Shutterstock, Andrea Booher , Bob McMillian

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Disaster-resilient housing saves lives and dollars

How to teach children about climate change

January 22, 2019 by  
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As the saying goes, children are our future. Because they will be the next voice in striving toward a sustainable planet, they must first be aware of the problems and possible solutions. But implying that the earth will eventually burst into a fiery ball and there’s little we can do about it might not be the best approach. When educating children about climate change , it’s important to make sure the information is age-appropriate, you use positive, empowering language and you remember to revisit the conversation often. Here are a few pointers to get you, and your potentially earth-saving discussion, headed in the right direction. Make it age-appropriate Children are both imaginative and literal, so a phrase like, “We’re killing the planet” can set the conversation off on the wrong path. Remember that those developing minds are a blank slate when it comes to climate change. They don’t have decades of knowledge, facts and fallacies from which to work. For children under the age of eight, keep the conversation focused around a love of nature . Impress upon them the beauty around them. Talk about the importance of picking up garbage, helping animals and growing plants. With an understanding of nature, children will have a better comprehension of climate change down the road. Around the age of nine or 10, children are able to consume more abstract concepts. This means that they can absorb information through discussion and hands-on activities. Related: 7 ways to conserve water and reduce your water footprint Make it tangible Although children become capable of engaging in the discussion, it’s always better to help them see the problem through hands-on activities. The goal is to visually express the point. For example, create a science experiment in your kitchen where you grow plants in an aquarium and add chemicals to the water. Show them images of environmental pollution and talk about how the food chain is affected by the loss of a species. When thinking about examples that will resonate with your child, keep in mind his or her interests. Are they passionate about a particular animal? What about babies, trees, bugs or food? Meet them where their interests lie for the best results. Be factual, not inflammatory For children to have an understanding that might lead to change, they must first understand the facts. Using fear tactics is not likely to net the result you’re looking for. Instead, focus on facts that are easily digestible. Don’t worry about statistics and hard data. Instead, discuss things that interest them. Make it a regular conversation. While washing the vegetables at the kitchen sink, discuss where the water comes from, how it’s treated and where it goes after it heads down the drain. Explain how chemicals in that water end up back in the system. When planting the garden, talk about how the plants benefit from sunlight and water, and how that ultimately brings energy into our bodies. Remember that the conversation regarding climate change will be ongoing. As they get older, discuss reports, news and articles. Educate them about how the fossil fuels  that plastic is made from affects the planet, and challenge them to think about changes you could make as a family to eliminate plastic in your home. Your children will have questions. When they do, admit if you don’t have the answers. Empower them by showing them how to perform effective research and find the answers together (within the allowed boundaries of internet usage in your home). While you’re online, track down a carbon footprint calculator and have your children complete it with you as a measurement of your electrical and water consumption. Find resources for every age The idea of climate change is certainly not new, and generations of teachers and parents have found interesting ways to discuss the issues with children of all ages. Books and videos that cover the effects of climate change on our planet are prevalent and allow you to preview material before sharing it with children. Read books that are engaging and informative. Start with “The Magic School Bus” or “Bill Nye the Science Guy” for digestible and entertaining content. Related: Oceans warming 40 percent faster than previously thought Keep it positive Although a virtual dark cloud sometimes goes hand-in-hand with discussions around climate change, try to focus conversations around positive actions. Discussing the topic by showing your child news reports of other children picking up plastic trash or businesses aimed at sustainable practices. This shows them that many, many people are making tangible changes already and offers encouragement that they too can make a difference through small or large actions. Do as you say The most powerful statement you can make to your child is living the life that you talk about. Although children hear what you say, when they see you taking your own shopping bags to the grocery store and they understand why, it drives home the message. Work with your children to avoid single-use plastic by making your own yogurt and applesauce, taking a reusable water bottle everywhere you go and declining straws at the restaurant. Recycle at home and explain the process as you go. Nurture their environmentalist tendencies by signing up for a beach clean up day or a community tree planting event. Via Rainforest Alliance , NASA , Scholastic and Study Images via Shutterstock

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