Rare earth minerals power the world, but mining leaves local and global footprints in the land

October 4, 2019 by  
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The mining industry has work to do to ensure that communities and workers are safe from pollution and injury.

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Rare earth minerals power the world, but mining leaves local and global footprints in the land

Dig for legitimacy: The case for good ESG in mining

September 12, 2019 by  
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Increasing scrutiny has delivered major improvements in the mining industry’s approach to environmental and social governance.

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Dig for legitimacy: The case for good ESG in mining

Restaurants are helping to drive carbon farming practices

September 12, 2019 by  
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The industry that’s bigger than agriculture and retail can incentivize regenerative land management practices.

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Restaurants are helping to drive carbon farming practices

4 reasons why urban landscapes are a linchpin for climate resilience

September 12, 2019 by  
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Properly designed and managed using sustainable landscape strategies, outdoor areas can help communities significantly.

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4 reasons why urban landscapes are a linchpin for climate resilience

How much carbon dioxide is actually in your products?

August 8, 2019 by  
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Production might be out of sight, out of mind, but CO2 is embedded in products through minerals and materials. How do we measure it?

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How much carbon dioxide is actually in your products?

Demand for sand: the largest mining industry no one talks about

May 23, 2019 by  
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The world’s largest and perhaps most destructive mining industry is rarely discussed. Approximately 85 percent of all material mined from the earth is a simple and widely available resource: sand. Because it is so cheap and readily available, it is mined by everyone from guy with a shovel, to multi-million dollar machine operations. The majority of sand is used to make concrete, but the displacement of sand leads to the catastrophic destruction of coastal, sea bed and river ecosystems and topography. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that 40 billion tons of sand are mined every year, but since the market is corrupt, hidden and decentralized there have been no comprehensive studies to date. In order to get a rough number, the United Nation’s used global cement production and sales figures to approximate how much sand is collected. For example, every ton of cement requires six to seven tons of sand and gravel in order to make concrete. Related: Mining in Tasmania raises water pollution concerns to a new high The environmental impact Sand mining, especially when done without regulation or oversight, can damage rivers, cause beach erosion and destroy coastal ecosystems . At least 24 Indonesian islands disappeared off the map just to build Singapore. Since sand dredging occurs primarily for construction purposes, miners target river and coastal ecosystems where the sand is ideal. River sand is particularly perfect for concrete because it is coarse and does not contain salt that would otherwise corrode metal and other building materials. In addition to disturbing riverbed and river bank ecosystems, altering the flow and capacity of rivers can cause drought or disastrous flooding– though rarely recognized as a contributing factor. In Kerala, India, flooding was found to be partially caused by sand dredging that took 40 times more sand out of the river bed than the river could naturally replace. Dredging sea grass habitat can also cause sediment to drift for miles causing both coastal erosion and smothering ecosystems like coral reefs . Erosion, land subsidence and the introduction of heavy machinery and vehicles into delicate habitats also threatens the integrity of nearby infrastructure such as roads and bridges. One study found that every ton of sand taken from a river in California cost taxpayers $3 in infrastructure damage. Cities’ demand for sand Development and urbanization are expanding rapidly in every corner of the world to accommodate an exponentially growing population and our insatiable rates of consumption and expansion. According to the United Nations, the number of people living in cities is more than four times what it was in the 1950s. Over 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in urban areas with nearly three billion additional people expected to migrate to cities in the next 30 years. In addition to new buildings, sand is also used for land expansion projects. In China , it is a common practice to dump sand on top of coral reefs to speed the process of building land. Dubai is also famous for its man-made islands, which required millions of tons of sand. Singapore has added over 50 square miles of land in the past four decades and more skyscrapers in the last 10 years than all of New York City— a feat that required over 500 million tons of sand. The creation of Singapore was so rapid that Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam all banned the export of sand, but miners simply moved to Lake Poyang on the Yangtze River. The WWF calls this Lake the largest sand mine in the world, but it is tragically also Asia’s largest destination for migratory birds . Sand dredging activities have more than doubled the river’s capacity in certain areas, draining parts of the lake and reducing key fisheries. “It’s the same story as over-fishing and over-foresting,” says Pascal Peduzzi, from the United Nations Environment Program. “It’s another way to look at unsustainable development .” The scale of the problem is enormous and the consequences of moving massive amounts of life-and land-sustaining material from one place to another is glaring but the world remains functionally oblivious, blinded by the desire for new buildings and up-and-coming neighborhoods. Related: NYC considers Manhattan land expansion to fight climate change Can sand dredging be done sustainably? River ecologists suggest that sand dredging in rivers should only be done up to a pre-determined quota that allows the river to annually replenish sediment. However, this sustainable number will never equal humanity’s unsustainable need for development. There are a number of suggestions to improve the sustainability of the industry, but none are perfect: Offshore sand mining Britain now sources much of its sand further offshore in order to protect river and coastal ecosystems, however, much of this sand is only used for land reclamation projects where the salt content is not a concern. Sandy bottom reservoirs Another untapped source is the sand that collects at the bottom of reservoirs. Dredging reservoirs could not only provide sand but also helps to expand storage capacity. Ecologists, however, argue that this sand should technically be put back into the rivers that feed into reservoirs. Recycling glass and rubble Rubble from demolished buildings can be used to produce concrete, reducing the need for fresh sand. Glass can also be recycled , which again reduces the need for sand. Mining on flood plains Limited mining on floodplains, rather than riverbanks and riverbeds, is thought to be less destructive. However, floodplains also have fragile ecosystems. In Australia, floodplains are home to rare carnivorous plant species that are now at risk from mining activities. Replacing sand in concrete Ash from incinerators and dust from stone quarries can be used in the production of concrete to reduce the demand for sand. Via Yale Environment 360 Images via Shutterstock

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Demand for sand: the largest mining industry no one talks about

Green batteries? Renewable energy storage will cost nature

May 20, 2019 by  
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Our quest to save the world by achieving 100 percent renewable energy will unfortunately also be devastating for the environment . An increase in renewable energy means an increase in the need for batteries to power electric cars and store energy from solar panels and wind turbines. However, batteries are made from unsustainably and unethically sourced metals. A new report , released by the University of Technology in Sydney, estimates that the surge in battery production will increase the demand for metals four times above what is currently available in the earth’s existing mines and reserves. The researchers calculated how the demand for “green batteries” will rise if countries meet their Paris Agreement commitments and transition to 100 percent renewable energy and transportation by 2050. Their findings indicate that the demand will exceed the amount of cobalt that is currently available and will consume 86 percent of the earth’s lithium. What metals are needed? Phones, solar panels, wind turbines and the batteries they use to store energy all use a variety of metals. In addition to lithium, batteries use cobalt, manganese and nickel. Solar panels are made from tellurium, gallium, silver and indium. Other renewable devices also use copper and aluminum. Related: Renewable energy surpasses coal for the first time in U.S. history The impact of metal mining Metal mining is largely unsustainable and there is currently no plan for ensuring a clean transition to renewable energy that reforms the mining industry. The following metals are especially problematic and in high demand: Cobalt 60 percent of all cobalt is sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where the mining process causes large scale heavy metal contamination of the air, water and soil. Moreover, the cobalt industry has widely documented human rights abuses, including employing children and forcing workers to mine in highly dangerous circumstances. After extraction in rural areas of the DRC, the raw metal travels to the capitol for processing and is typically transported to China, which refines 40 percent of all cobalt. Chinese companies then sell the refined cobalt to places such as Vietnam, where batteries are produced and then sold all over the world. In addition to the atrocious impacts at the mining site, the entire industry has a massive carbon footprint . Innovators are desperately trying to design a cobalt-free battery. Elon Musk even tweeted a commitment to discovering a new way to produce batteries, hoping to distance Tesla from the environmental and human rights issues tied to the cobalt industry. Such battery technology is not a likely possibility in the near future and the demand for renewable energy will cause a spike in the need to rely on the existing cobalt market at the expense of nature and thousands of lives. Lithium Lithium is largely extracted from South American countries such as Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The mines have contaminated drinking water reserves and cause conflict with local communities. Leaders from 33 indigenous groups sued mine operators over their right to clean water, however, they are up against a powerful industry that charges everything from our TV remotes to our beloved cellphones. Copper A new technology promises a more environmentally friendly strategy for extracting copper from the ground. It involves injecting an acid solution into the land while leaving the surface relatively undisturbed. However, the technology may still contaminate land and ground water. In Alaska , an indigenous group has been fighting a proposed copper mine on the site of a world’s most highly productive sockeye salmon fishery. Despite the importance of this ecosystem , the indigenous leaders have an uphill battle against powerful corporations, rising demand and limited copper reserves. Solutions: The greening of batteries Despite the negative impact of battery materials, experts still argue that the transition to renewable energy is worth it. Energy professor, Charles Barnhart of Western Washington University, told the media: “I want to be clear that when we talk about environmental impacts, we’re not trying to decide between ‘lesser evils,’” the destructive legacy of fossil fuels is incomparable. Although metal mining may never be clean, there are a few ways to improve the problem: Demand transparency from battery and electronics companies If mining operations and electronics companies know that consumers are paying attention to their supply chains, human rights practices and environmental impacts they are more likely to do the right thing. Respect rights of indigenous communities The sovereignty and voices of dissent from local communities must be recognized and supported both legally and financially in places from the DRC to Alaska. Increase energy efficiency The world’s transition to renewable energy seems to be the path forward, however people can still reduce their need for electricity in their every day lives. For example, homes built to make the most of natural light use less electricity during the daytime. Recycle batteries The lithium and cobalt recycling industry will be worth $23 billion by 2025 and will rise with increasing demand. Major companies like Tesla, Apple and Amazon are developing battery recycling programs for their products. Related: A growing number of states are aiming for clean energy Tips on how to recycle your batteries: Single-Use Batteries Identify a collection program or event in your area by calling your town hall or using Earth911’s Recycling Search program. Store batteries in plastic or cardboard containers and cover the ends with tape to prevent energy drain. Rechargeable batteries Identify a collection program. Many home and office supply stores have recycled battery dropboxes. Remove the battery from your electronics and cover the ends with clear tape. Via Earther Images via Shutterstock

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Green batteries? Renewable energy storage will cost nature

Architects transform a residential building into a lush, green oasis in the heart of So Paulo

May 20, 2019 by  
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Although São Paulo is known as a bustling metropolis, a local architectural firm, Lucia Manzano Arquitetura , is doing its part to add more green to the concrete and glass cityscape. The Lorena is a residential building in the heart of the city that is designed to integrate architecture and landscape. It infuses an abundance of vegetation throughout from its ground floor garden, which was planted with native shrubs and trees to attract local fauna, to the massive balconies covered in hanging greenery, and of course, a lush green roof. Sitting in the middle of São Paulo, the 28,000-square-foot Lorena building holds court in a quiet area, standing out significantly from its concrete neighbors thanks to the massive amount of vegetation that hangs from each of its outdoor terraces and rooftop gardens . According to the architects, the inspiration for the design was to create a strong relationship between landscape and architecture. To do so, the building was covered in layers of vibrant plants. Related: Translucent Ho Chi Minh City office tower infused with greenery helps combat urban pollution The concrete building is four stories, comprised of several 5,543-square-foot duplex units. The common areas, the ground floor and the rooftop were conceived as private gardens for the residents. On the ground floor, the landscaping includes  native vegetation , such as local species from the Atlantic Forest as well as fruit and native trees, chosen to attract local birds and insects. This space also has an extended splash pool to create a soothing oasis where the residents can relax. At the top of the building, residents can also enjoy a beautiful green roof . Equipped with large trees, shrubs and flowers, there are also plenty of lounge chairs to take in the stunning views of the city. When they are not strolling along the pool or taking in the rooftop vistas, residents have their own private escape at home. Each duplex has four bedrooms, each with its own private balcony that pulls double-duty as flowerbeds. The living space in each unit opens up to a balcony, merging the interior with the exterior. As well as creating the sense of being surrounded by a garden , the abundance of plant life also provides the residences with plenty of privacy. + Lucia Manzano Arquitetura  Via Archdaily Photography by Evelyn Müller via Lucia Manzano Arquitetura

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Architects transform a residential building into a lush, green oasis in the heart of So Paulo

Repowering old mines with new energies in the southwestern United States

April 3, 2019 by  
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Renewables bring plenty of new potential to communities left

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Repowering old mines with new energies in the southwestern United States

How 5G could change transportation

April 3, 2019 by  
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For shared, electric autonomous vehicles, upgrading cellular networks might be the key.

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How 5G could change transportation

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