Biggest environmental news stories of the decade

December 31, 2019 by  
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As we begin a new decade, we’re taking a look over the biggest environmental news stories since 2010. There’s a little good news, and a lot of not-so-good news. Still, we can look back and learn from what is happening in the hopes of taking action and restoring a brighter future for our planet. Climate change moves into the mainstream, and more kids get involved While a few climate deniers still fill high-ranking political posts, climate change is much more widely accepted as fact — rather than something to “believe in” — than it was in 2010. According to the TED blog, only four TED Talks specifically on climate change were posted in 2010 and 2011, although speakers mentioned the phenomenon. By 2015, TED said, people had shifted to seeing climate change as happening now, rather than in the far-off future, thanks to debates about whether or not places like the island nation of Kiribati were already sinking. Related: 12 good things that happened for the environment in 2019 By the end of the decade, climate change is on the forefront of many people’s minds, especially young people. Worldwide movements like Extinction Rebellion use massive, nonviolent protests to urge politicians to slow the warming. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg rose to international prominence, taking politicians to task about ignoring climate change and even being named Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2019. Deepwater Horizon The decade started with a tragic oil spill on April 20, 2010, one of the worst in history. The explosion on British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig operating in the Gulf of Mexico, killed 11 people. It leaked oil into the gulf for 87 days, for a total of 3.19 million barrels of crude oil polluting the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Images of people trying to wipe oil off pelican wings filled the news. Cleanup costs reached at least $65 billion . In addition to economic blows, especially to Louisiana’s shrimp and oyster industries, the animal death toll was high. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, about 82,000 birds, 6,165 sea turtles, 25,900 marine mammals and uncountable numbers of fish perished in the spill. Researchers are still gauging the long-term effects. Extreme weather events become more frequent As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned, global warming escalates weather disasters. The last decade saw 111 climate-related natural disasters that each cost more than $1 billion in damage. These include tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, drought, heatwaves and winter storms. In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, killing 2,981 people and costing an estimated $93.6 billion in damages. Notable U.S. disasters included Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the Missouri tornadoes of 2011. Animal extinctions Humans continued to edge out other animals in the struggle for habitat and resources. According to the World Wildlife Fund , species loss currently stands at between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, which is the rate Earth would lose species if humans didn’t exist. In 2012, Lonesome George, the last Pinta tortoise , died at over 100 years old. Formosan clouded leopards no longer slink across Taiwan. The Christmas Island pipistrelle, a microbat, has ceased its ultrasonic squeaking. No more baiji dolphins cavort in the Yangtze River. In this last decade, the planet also lost Caribbean monk seals, West African black rhinos, Madagascar hippopotami and Liverpool pigeons. Rainforest deforestation The decade’s final year witnessed much of the Amazonian rainforest go up in smoke. Brazil and Bolivia were particularly hit hard. Many attributed this tragedy at least in part to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s push for development over preservation. Horrifying photos from the National Institute for Space Research revealed enormous bald swaths where trees once stood. During its peak in August 2019, more than 70,000 individual fires were burning. The rainforest plays a critical role in regulating the entire world’s climate, so concerns stretched far beyond Brazil. Related: Amazon rainforest might reach irreversible tipping point as early as 2021 Increase in ocean plastic During the last decade, plastic continued to fill the oceans. But awareness of ocean plastic also grew. A 2018 United Nations study reported that people dump approximately 13 million tons of plastic into the world’s oceans annually, and the researchers expected this number to grow. At the same time, many concerned citizens in cities around the world worked to decrease plastic waste by banning straws and plastic bags. Some hotel chains vowed to no longer stock beverages packaged in single-use plastic bottles. Many companies started developing products made from recycled plastic. Reusable water bottles became an important fashion accessory. China stopped buying American recycling Americans became more adept at recycling , but they weren’t necessarily aware where their recycled goods went. In 2018, China enacted a policy called National Sword. Suddenly, Americans realized their old plastic had largely been going to China , but China didn’t want it anymore. Now at the end of the decade, American cities are scrambling to save unprofitable recycling programs. Ironically, some cities have canceled these programs just when they’ve convinced people to recycle. Right now, it’s cheaper for American companies to produce new plastic than to recycle old. This is one of the many environmental problems that must be addressed in the coming decade. Images via Shutterstock

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Biggest environmental news stories of the decade

Looking at climate from the social angle

November 27, 2019 by  
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An NFL fullback, teen activists, a National Geographic photographer and others provide provocative talks about critical equity-climate connections.

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Looking at climate from the social angle

Mary Wenzel of Wells Fargo on the company’s innovation incubator and agriculture

November 14, 2019 by  
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Wells Fargo partnered with the National Renewable Energy Lab to create the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator, which supports clean energy entrepreneurs.

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Mary Wenzel of Wells Fargo on the company’s innovation incubator and agriculture

YouTube stars partner up in #TeamTrees campaign to plant 20 million trees

October 30, 2019 by  
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To combat the climate crisis , a coalition of YouTubers has joined together for a mammoth mission to plant 20 million trees beginning in January 2020. Called #TeamTrees, the reforestation campaign has social media all abuzz. They have, so far, raised enough funds to plant more than 8 million trees, and that number is rising. How did it all start? When YouTuber Jimmy Donaldson, or MrBeast, reached the 20 million subscribers milestone on his YouTube channel, which is dedicated to extreme stunts and philanthropic challenges, his subscribers dared him to plant 20 million trees to commemorate the occasion. The campaign quickly went viral. Related: Scientists confirm tree planting is our best solution to climate change “People keep making fun of our generation for retweet activism and not actually doing something … this is your chance to make a difference,” MrBeast said to his supporters. “Just to be clear, we all realize 20 million trees won’t fix climate change . But at the end of the day, 20 million more trees is better than zero! We want to take action because doing nothing is how we got here!” Upward of 600 YouTube creatives have since joined the #TeamTrees initiative, even rallying their subscribers to follow suit with the planting trees endeavor. To date, these social media influencers have a combined total of 650 million subscribers, double the United States population.  Each $1 donation plants a single tree. In the first 48 hours of the #TeamTrees website going live on October 25, the initiative raised more than $5 million — and the funds keep growing. All donations are sent directly to the Arbor Day Foundation, the nonprofit devoted to tree planting . For almost 50 years, the nonprofit has planted 250 million trees worldwide. Trees funded by the #TeamTrees endeavor will be planted across the globe beginning January 2020. The Arbor Day Foundation anticipates a December 2022 completion date; the year 2022 will mark the 150th anniversary of the first Arbor Day. To promote successful tree survival rates, the Arbor Day Foundation will partner with the United State Forest Service, the National Park Service and the National Association of State Foresters to ensure the trees planted will not be invasive species . The trees chosen will be native to the region in which they are planted, many in national forests managed by government agencies. To speed up the process, the #TeamTrees campaign is entertaining a collaboration with DroneSeed, a company that deploys drones to plant trees in a scalable fashion. Small drones first map out the landscape, followed by larger drones that drop seed vessels at locations ideal for growing trees. Additionally, this eco-friendly YouTube collaboration is flooding the platform with tree content. The #TeamTrees coalition hopes to game the algorithm and push for more environmental videos to rank at the top of the recommended playlists. With tree videos trending next to cat videos, Mother Nature would be proud. + #TeamTrees Via The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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YouTube stars partner up in #TeamTrees campaign to plant 20 million trees

Aluminum cans vs plastic bottles: which is best for the environment?

October 30, 2019 by  
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We’ve all been guilty of buying an unsustainable beverage every once in a while, but when faced with the perplexing conundrum of whether to grab that plastic bottle or aluminum can, which do you believe to be more environmentally-friendly ? The history of plastic goes back to the early 1900s when the first fully synthetic plastic was invented as an alternative to the shellac used in electronic insulation. During World War II, plastic production increased by 300% in the United States as it was used for everything, from nylon in ropes and parachutes to plexiglass in airplane windows. After the war, commercial use of plastic had completely taken off and incorporated into virtually every product and market in modern life. By the 1960s, the first occurrence of plastic pollution in the oceans was recorded. Related: This rechargeable camping headlamp is made out of sustainable wood and recycled aluminum Today, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 80% of the marine debris found in our oceans originated as land-based trash that was not recycled. Over 90% of the plastics found in the ocean is comprised of microplastics, which commonly end up ingested by aquatic animals, often killing them through choking or toxicity. The National Geographic Society found that 91% of the world’s plastic was not recycled in 2018. That alarming statistic means that all but 9% of plastic waste ends up either in landfills or in the ocean. Plastic bottles are made from petroleum, or “crude oil.” Oil drilling, also known as fracking, wastes water, releases methane into the atmosphere, produces oil spills and generally wreaks havoc on the environment. Plastic bottles are typically too thin to recycle into more plastic bottles, but the material can be made into fibers for things like carpets, clothing and sleeping bags. In 2018, the recycling rate for plastic bottles was just over 29%. The use of aluminum cans was first introduced to the general public in 1959 by Coors. About five years later, Royal Crown Cola brought aluminum into the soft drinks game with their RC Cola and Diet Rite. Since then, they’ve been used for everything from energy drinks and sparkling waters to sodas and wine. Aluminum offered an affordable alternative to steel as well as a more convenient surface for company printed text and graphics. Aluminum cans can be recycled into more cans in a true “closed-loop” recycling process. In 2018 the recycling rate for aluminum cans was 49.8%. The liquid inside the aluminum can benefit from the material as well, since aluminum blocks light, moisture and oxygen from permeating the outside. This makes the drinks more sustainable , as they have a longer shelf-life. Lightweight cans have only decreased in weight over the years, with the first aluminum cans weighing about three ounces per unit and modern cans weighing less than half an ounce. Typically recycling programs value aluminum over plastic or glass, with the former holding $1,317 worth of value per ton of recyclable material versus plastic’s $299 per ton. This allows more municipal recycling programs to stay in service. IFC International, a global management consulting and technology company, found in a 2016 study that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transportation and refrigeration of aluminum are 7 to 21 percent lower than that of plastic and 35 to 49 percent lower than glass. The easy-to-recycle aluminum material doesn’t stop there; the shiny stuff’s strength is another advantage. According to the Aluminum Association , four six-packs can hold up a two-ton vehicle thanks to the packaging’s aversion to rust, corrosion and ability to withhold carbonation pressure. This stamina allows companies to package and transport more product using less material. Related: Prada jumps into the sustainability realm with six Re-Nylon bags made from recycled plastic waste When it comes to the amount of recycled material found in cans versus plastic bottles, aluminum has the upper hand, as well. In 2016 the Environmental Protection Agency found that aluminum cans contain three times the amount of recycled content than plastic. They also estimated that aluminum cans are made up of 73% recycled material on average.  Aluminum doesn’t occur in nature and is primarily comprised of bauxite rock, which is primarily found in Australia, India and Brazil. Collecting bauxite comprises of open-pit mining, which usually involves moving or bulldozing large amounts of vegetation and surface rocks. This type of mining negatively affects ecosystems and creates air and water pollution , which can cause health issues for wildlife and humans. Not to mention, the combination of electrolysis and chemical processing that it takes to turn bauxite into conventional aluminum takes a large amount of heat and energy. However, the Aluminum Association assures that land conservation has become an important focus among bauxite mining. Topsoil from the site is stored to be replaced after the process is finished, so “an average of 80 percent of the land mined for bauxite is returned to its native ecosystem.” So how can you make sure you’re not contributing to plastic or aluminum pollution? Always reach for that reusable water bottle before going out! Fill it with water, soda, juice or whatever you like. For those unavoidable times when you end up with plastic or aluminum waste, get some inspiration for recycling through Inhabitat! Images via pasja1000 , gepharts3d , filmbetrachterin , Enriquehgz , Mr.TinDC

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Aluminum cans vs plastic bottles: which is best for the environment?

NYC bans processed meats served in public schools

October 8, 2019 by  
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In an effort to improve the Big Apple’s public health, all processed meats will no longer be offered at New York City public school and public university cafeterias. That means no pepperoni, bacon, cold-cut deli meats, sausages or hot dogs for lunch. The new ban follows on the heels of the city’s successful test-run across all city schools of Meatless Mondays. Policymakers and education officials say the decision to adopt Resolution 238 is thanks to scientific evidence linking disease and other ailments with red and processed meats . The move paves the way to healthier food choices, minimizing any associated health risks. Related: Meatless Mondays are coming to public schools in New York City Over the years, the World Health Organization has warned that processed meats are carcinogenic, increase the likelihood of obesity and pre-diabetes among children and teens and elevate risk factors associated with heart disease, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer rates among young adults. But these conditions, researchers say, are preventable through dietary and lifestyle changes. Similarly, the National Cancer Institute announced that young people of today exhibit double to quadruple the risks of colorectal cancers, when compared to those of the 1950s. Why? Sadly, today’s youth have diets low in fiber and high in processed meats, exacerbated by lifestyles lacking in physical activity . Even more worrisome, studies have shown just one hot dog or two bacon strips per day increases colorectal cancer risks by 18 percent. “We cannot continue feeding our children substances scientifically proven to increase cancer later in life,” said Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams. “Chicken nuggets and sloppy joes are in the same class of substances as cigarettes. We know that we would never give our children cigarettes to smoke, so there’s absolutely no reason why we should continue poisoning our children’s health with processed foods .” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics affirms that those following plant-based diets show lower rates of health complications than their omnivorous counterparts. In other words, curbing unhealthy meat consumption and removing processed meats from school menus is a positive change for students’ health. By offering more nutritious meals on public school campuses, from preschool through university, all NYC students can be better nourished, likely boosting academic performance and overall well-being. In September 2018, the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) became the first school district in the country to remove processed meats from all school lunch lines. This recent ban in such a large metropolitan area shows that the move toward providing plant-based alternatives for more nutritious school meals is gaining momentum. + Resolution 238 Via TreeHugger Image via Shutterstock

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NYC bans processed meats served in public schools

Pitch in on National Public Lands Day, September 28

September 18, 2019 by  
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Volunteers will gather rakes, shovels, and trash bags to help … The post Pitch in on National Public Lands Day, September 28 appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Pitch in on National Public Lands Day, September 28

Tribute in Light endangers migrating birds

September 11, 2019 by  
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New York City’s annual September 11 Tribute in Light seeks to console a still-damaged city and commemorate those lost in the 2001 Twin Tower attacks. Unfortunately, the stunning beams of light also mesmerize birds , sometimes luring them to their deaths. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , the light event endangers nearly 160,000 birds each year. September is prime time for birds and other animals using the migration corridor that passes through New York City. Everything from warblers to bats to peregrine falcons flutter and swoop above the cityscape, as they have for thousands of years before there was even a single light to fly over. Related: Bird deaths from skyscrapers reaches into the hundreds of millions The Tribute in Light disrupts birds’ internal compasses. Birds rely on natural guideposts, such as light from the sun, stars and moon, and the pull of the earth’s magnetic field, to find their way to winter grounds. “When the installation was illuminated, birds aggregated in high densities, decreased flight speeds, followed circular flight paths and vocalized frequently,” the study authors wrote . “Simulations revealed a high probability of disorientation and subsequent attraction for nearby birds.” This means that while the smaller birds paused, hypnotized by lights, larger birds swooped down and snatched them for supper. Those who elude predators waste precious energy flying in circles over the light show, making them vulnerable to exhaustion and starvation. “Birds do fly for extended periods of time,” said John Rowden of the National Audubon Society. “It’s not that they can’t do it. But they’re doing it to get south of here. If they spend all their time in that small area, they won’t get to good foraging habitat , and it will compromise them for later parts of their migration.” A few scientists and a group of volunteers from the New York City chapter of the Audubon Society are keeping track of the light-dazzled birds. When they count 1,000 trapped birds, the lights are shut off for 20 minutes, allowing the birds to disperse. Ornithologist Susan Elbin is the director of conservation and science at New York City Audubon Society. As she told the New York Times , “It’s my job to turn the lights out, and I’d rather not have lights on at all, because the artificial light interferes with birds’ natural cues to navigate.” Via EcoWatch and New York Times Image via Dennis Leung

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Tribute in Light endangers migrating birds

Earth911 Quiz #66: The Social Cost of Carbon

July 11, 2019 by  
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The National Academies of Sciences recently released a comprehensive review … The post Earth911 Quiz #66: The Social Cost of Carbon appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Earth911 Quiz #66: The Social Cost of Carbon

Trumps July 4th celebration cost our National Parks millions

July 5, 2019 by  
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The Independence Day festivities hosted by the White House yesterday cost the National Park Service an estimated $2.5 million dollars, money that is typically earmarked for park maintenance and rehabilitation. The rainy celebration, which included military jet fly overs, tank displays and the largest firework display in D.C. history, is the most expensive July 4th celebration any president has hosted. What Trump promoted via Twitter as the “show of a lifetime” was loosely inspired by his trip to France during Bastille Day. After the proposed budget for a similar celebration last year reached $92 million, Trump had to scale back his plan. Related: How National Parks benefit the environment The president also made a speech yesterday, a first in 32 years. For the past three decades, presidents have elected to not speak at the Independence Day celebrations out of respect for unity and patriotism and an attempt to not politicize the holiday. “Today, we come together as one nation with this very special salute to America. We celebrate our history, our people and the heroes who proudly defend our flag — the brave men and women of the United States military,” Trump said during his speech. Despite his message of unity, tickets for the highly anticipated events were given out as gifts to high-rolling donors to the Republican National Committee. “This is a breach of trust with the public,” said Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The public pays parks fees to fix national parks and for educational programs, not the president’s parades.” The national parks are reportedly $12 billion dollars behind in their maintenance needs, and this event is another major setback. While the event cost the country’s parks $2.5 million, the Trump administration refused to reveal exactly how much the antics cost taxpayers in total. Before the celebration, Trump tweeted , “The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats.” Via EcoWatch Image via Joyce N. Boghosian / The White House

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Trumps July 4th celebration cost our National Parks millions

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