Federal judge blocks the Keystone XL Pipeline

November 12, 2018 by  
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In a major setback for President Trump and his administration, a U.S. district judge has issued an order to block construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline while the State Department studies its impact on the environment . Last year, the Trump administration approved the controversial 1,179-mile pipeline, but Judge Brian Morris’ 54-page order is preventing it from being built — for now. The decision does not permanently stop construction, but it is putting the development on hold until the State Department takes a harder look at the impact the pipeline will have on oil prices, the cumulative effects of greenhouse gas emissions, potential oil spills and cultural resources. Related: The Keystone Pipeline leak was nearly twice as big as we thought Under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, there is an obligation to protect the environment. Under the Obama administration, the State Department denied a permit to build the pipeline because of the environmental effects. But President Trump shifted the policy when he took office and invited TransCanada to re-submit its permit application just four days after he was sworn in. Then, in March 2017, the POTUS signed an executive order supporting the Keystone Pipeline’s construction. Judge Morris wrote in his decision that the president did not give a reasoned explanation or a fact-based determination for the course reversal. According to NPR , there has been a lot of backlash from environmentalists and indigenous peoples since the pipeline’s conception in 2008 because of the possible environmental impact and violations of historic treaties. “Today’s ruling is a decisive moment in our fight against the corporate polluters who have rushed to destroy our planet,” said Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth. “Today, the courts showed the Trump administration and their corporate polluter friends that they cannot bully rural landowners, farmers, environmentalists and Native communities.” If the Keystone Pipeline does become a reality, it will run through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Canada, and it will transport about 830,000 barrels of crude oil each day. Via NPR Image via Pax Ahimsa Gethen

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Yves Bhar designs compact, prefab homes to tackle the housing crisis

November 12, 2018 by  
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Yves Béhar has designed everything from high-tech wearables to voice-activated,  transforming furniture  — now, the prolific San Francisco-based designer is adding prefabricated homes to the list. Unveiled earlier this month at the Summit Festival in Los Angeles, the YB1 (Yves Béhar LivingHomes) is a line of prefabricated accessory dwelling units created in partnership with LivingHomes, the design studio of California-based prefabricated home producers Plant Prefab. The fully customizable homes are built with sustainable construction methods and materials, and they are aimed at increasing urban density while reducing the environmental impact of new construction. Designed with flexibility in mind, the modular YB1 can be fully customized to meet a variety of living requirements, climatic conditions and aesthetic desires. The first three available versions of YB1, for instance, include three different floor plans and roof systems thanks to a 4-foot grid system that allows for a range of 250- to 1,200-square-foot units. Depending on the footprint, the interiors can be outfitted with a full kitchen, bathroom with a shower, living room, a bedroom and an office. Homeowners will be able to choose the appliances, finishes, lighting and electrical systems ahead of time for pre-installation. “Following our work on efficient living with robotic furniture company ORI, I’m excited to extend the passion for tiny homes and prefab by partnering with LivingHomes. For me, the next frontier of design is to think of the entire home as a product that a homeowner can shape to their needs in terms of size, usage, aesthetic and lifestyle,” said Yves Béhar, founder and CEO of fuseproject . “This is why we’re interested in the customizable nature of prefabricated ADU’s: people want their living environment to be a reflection of their specific life needs. The design goal of the LivingHomes ADU is adding urban density with a range of sizes and home designs while providing a building system that delivers on sustainable and efficient living in urban areas.” Related: Yves Béhar’s shapeshifting Ori furniture transforms your home at the touch of a button To reduce the environmental impact of YB1, the designers will use Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood siding and cement panels as well as passive solar principles to inform the roof options. The houses will also offer Smart Home capabilities for measuring resource use and energy production. Plant Prefab’s efficient building system allows the homes to be constructed in just one month. Then, it takes only a day to install them on-site. Initial pricing for the YB1 starts at around $280,000; however, the designers hope to offer Yves Béhar LivingHomes for less than $100,000 in the future. + YB1 Images via Yves Béhar

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Yves Bhar designs compact, prefab homes to tackle the housing crisis

A London office boasts biophilic design for a healthier, happier workplace

November 12, 2018 by  
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A new experimental office on the 12th floor of The Shard in London offers a breath of fresh air … literally. Wrapped in bamboo surfaces and punctuated by living plants, facilities management company Mitie’s headquarters in London was created by local practice DaeWha Kang Design . The biophilic project — dubbed the Living Lab at The Shard — mimics nature from its natural materials palette to the circadian lighting system linked to an astronomical clock. As its name suggests, the Living Lab at The Shard will be used as a pilot study to measure the impact of biophilic design on worker wellness and productivity. In addition to the client, the project was created in collaboration with Dr. Marcella Ucci (head of the MSc in Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings at the University College of London). A post-occupancy study will compare daily surveys of Mitie employees who will work at the Living Lab desks for four weeks at a time followed by a four-week work period in a “control area” on the same floor with similar environmental conditions but without biophilic design. “Biophilia refers to human beings’ innate need for a connection with nature,” DaeWha Kang Design said in its press release. “Human physiology is wired to seek qualities of light, view, material and other factors common in the natural world. The Living Lab is fully immersive, with rich and intricate patternization, natural materials  and interactive and dynamic lighting.” Related: This dreamy cluster of cabins houses light-filled live/work spaces in Hokkaido The project comprises two main spaces: the “Living Lab” immersive work environment and two “Regeneration Pods” for short-term rest and meditation. Bamboo was used for the sculptural privacy screens that curve up at the ceiling; different textures and shades of bamboo were also used for the floor, desks and task lights providing a warm contrast to The Shard’s cool glass-and-metal palette. The Regeneration Pods, also built of bamboo, were created by combining digital fabrication with hand-finishing techniques and feature plush built-in seating that faces walls of glass for city views. A subtle circadian lighting system uses color-changing lights to mimic the sun — a cool blue is cast in the morning that changes to bright white in the afternoon and finally reaches a fiery orange near sunset. + DaeWha Kang Design Images by Tom Donald for Aldworth James & Bond and Kyungsub Shin via DaeWha Kang Design

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The National Butterfly Center is threatened by Trump’s border wall

November 2, 2018 by  
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The National Butterfly Center is a 100-acre wildlife preserve and botanical garden in South Texas. Not only is it the habitat of more than 100 different species of butterflies, but it is also home to several endangered plants and threatened animals. It happens to be located directly in the path of the Trump administration’s proposed border wall, and that means its future is in question. In September, Congress approved a federal spending bill that included $1.6 billion to fund the wall’s construction, and last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a waiver of 28 different laws that protect public lands, wildlife and the environment in order for construction. If the planned wall actually becomes a reality, it could cut the privately-owned center in two, leaving up to 70 percent of the preserve’s land between the wall and the Rio Grande. “It’s going to be a no-man’s land, Border Patrol’s enforcement zone,” Marianna Trevino Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, told NPR . “They will clear everything. So it’s not like all of this habitat is going to become Garden of Eden, undisturbed. It is going to be eliminated.” Related: Trump’s border wall threatens Texas plants and wildlife A group of scientists published a paper this summer outlining the proposed wall’s negative environmental impacts, and more than 2,700 scientists signed the paper to call on the Trump administration to rethink its border strategy. They would prefer the DHS follow existing environmental laws and avoid physical barriers. There are also multiple lawsuits pending against the Trump administration arguing that the DHS doesn’t have the authority to waive environmental laws to build the wall. But in the past, similar lawsuits in California and New Mexico have been unsuccessful. Wall construction could begin in February 2019. In the meantime, the butterfly preserve will continue to use its property as though the wall will not be built. “We have long-term plans for this place,” Trevino Wright said. “We’re not going to just pack up and abandon that.” + National Butterfly Center Via NPR Images via Alan Schmierer ( 1 , 2 )

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KOGAA creates an energy self-sufficient City Cell in response to climate change

November 2, 2018 by  
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Galvanized by the growing debate on climate change , Brno-based KOGAA Architectural Studio and NEXT Institute Research Platform have teamed up to create the City Cell Prototype (CCP), a pop-up installation that serves as a testing ground for ways cities can combat climate extremes. Completed this year, the temporary pavilion of nearly 300 square feet is presently located at Malinovsky Square in Brno, Czech Republic’s second-largest city. Built of timber and powered by solar energy, the City Cell Prototype is a multifunctional design that includes rainwater reuse, urban greenery, human shelter and educational opportunities. The City Cell Prototype is primarily constructed from pre-dried KVH timber, a material that has the added benefit of not requiring any additional protective coatings. Elevated off the ground on footings, the wooden structure is centered on a tree set inside a “biofilter.” To make the pavilion look inviting to the public, KOGAA inserted low-slung seating and made the all-timber envelope as transparent as possible using slatted wood screens and two entrances. In addition to the tree, planters have been installed on both ends of the structure, with one wall comprising rows of street-facing planters. Despite the pavilion’s minimalist appearance, the structure features multiple systems that work together to ensure energy self-sufficiency. The sloped roofs, which are made from a translucent material to let light through, are angled to channel rainwater into the centrally located biofilter, where the runoff is then filtered through settling and phyto-processes. Once filtered, the rainwater is stored in tanks and then pumped up to a drip irrigation system connected to the pavilion’s planters. The water pump is powered by solar energy harvested from photovoltaic panels mounted to the roof; solar power also provides electricity for the LED lighting system. Related: An experimental greenhouse pops up at a busy Copenhagen intersection “Together with the vertical greenery, the biofilter allows water retention and evaporation, allowing the surrounding microclimate to cool down,” the architects explained. “Its shape develops from the need to provide shading, collect water and the intent to create a spatial communication between the new object and the existing square, also achieved through the two-sided openness.” After the testing period, the CCP could be included in more permanent projects. + KOGAA Architectural Studio Images via Boys Play Nice

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4 things you need to know about smart thermostats

November 2, 2018 by  
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Stuart Lombard has a mission: to reduce people’s carbon footprints while saving money. He found that heating and cooling made up the bulk of utility costs and searched to find a better way to monitor a home’s energy usage. He founded ecobee in 2007. The company developed a smart thermostat that allegedly saves people up to 23 percent a year on their heating and cooling bills. Some energy companies also offer rebates on smart thermostats, saving homeowners even more money. ecobee offers a few different products; the ecobee4, a smart Wi-Fi thermostat with room sensors, currently retails for $249. But even better than saving money, smart thermostats can help you do your part in reducing energy consumption and protecting the environment. Here are four things to know about smart thermostats. Reduces your carbon footprint Riding a bike to work instead of driving a car and installing solar panels are all positive steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint, but there are easier things you can do as well that will have little impact on your day-to-day life. Things like closing your curtains at night can have a positive impact on your heating and cooling bills and the environment. Lombard said, “There are some other great things like looking at your home and eliminating drafts, doing weather stripping, caulking, those are easy DIY projects for a lot of people.” Heating and cooling make up 40 to 70 percent of a home’s energy use, according to ecobee. In addition to making small changes yourself, a smart thermostat can greatly reduce this. Saves money Smart thermostats like the ecobee save you money in the long run. Lombard added, “The exciting thing about thermostats is from a consumer value proposition … it pays for itself in about a year.” Related: 10 money-saving tips for a green home Works with other technology A major trend right now is connecting all devices in your home. ecobee smart thermostats offer remote access from devices like your phone through an app. The ecobee4 works with Alexa — you can simply give Alexa a command to control your thermostat. Earlier models, like the ecobee3 lite, were Wi-Fi connected but did not have voice technology . Makes decisions for you The word “smart” is often thrown around to describe technological advancements. Generally speaking, smart technology is connected to the internet, which allows you to connect to a different device from your phone. The technology can use algorithms and other data to make decisions. Lombard said, “Our smart thermostats use weather to make smarter heater and cooling decisions.” The ecobee uses wireless room sensors to measure hot and cold spots in houses. It can also sense if someone is home or not and heat or cool the house accordingly. Because smart technology is connected to the internet, you can get frequent software updates, meaning devices work for longer periods of time. Whether you are looking to save some money each month on your utility bills or you want to do your part in saving the planet, investing in a smart thermostat is a good bet. + ecobee

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Advancing beef sustainability is a full supply chain effort

October 24, 2018 by  
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This article is sponsored by National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the beef checkoff.

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Advancing beef sustainability is a full supply chain effort

A disgraceful cascade of trash follows a rare Yellowstone Ear Spring geyser eruption

October 8, 2018 by  
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While tourists flock from all corners of the globe to witness the Yellowstone National Park geysers such as famous Old Faithful, it is a small and relatively-unknown geyser catching international attention this time around. Ear Spring had been quiet for about 60 years until its recent September 15 eruption that featured a fountain of trash gushing from its depths. The natural phenomena generally emit steam and hot water, but this 30-foot surge included a plethora of oddities thrown out by tourists over the course of nearly 90 years. In the aftermath, Yellowstone National Park’s official Facebook page issued a statement saying,  “After Ear Spring erupted on September 15, employees found a strange assortment of items strewn across the landscape around its vent!” A few of the items dated back to the 1930s. “Some are clearly historic,” the post read. “They’ll be inventoried by curators and may end up in Yellowstone’s archives.” Related: The world’s tallest active geyser keeps erupting in Yellowstone – and scientists don’t know why While throwing garbage into the geyser is prohibited, if not deterred by common sense, the landmark-turned-landfill had much to expel. Cigarette butts, plastic utensils and straws, film wrappers and other random articles, including a baby pacifier from the 1930s, littered the ground after the eruption.  “Foreign objects can damage hot springs and geysers,” explained the park, following the disgraceful display. “The next time Ear Spring erupts, we hope it’s nothing but natural rocks and water.” The small geyser’s spout was minor in comparison with other eruptions that are common in the area. Yellowstone is home to the world’s tallest active geyser, Steamboat, whose emissions can reach heights of 300 feet. The natural fountains gush steam and water in rapid patterns much like fireworks, and active geysers can erupt multiple times daily, such as Old Faithful, whose spouts can be admired every 35 to 120 minutes. While geyser eruptions can be magnificent, they are certainly less so when spewing decades of pollution. Via TreeHugger and The Huffington Post Image via Yellowstone National Park

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A disgraceful cascade of trash follows a rare Yellowstone Ear Spring geyser eruption

Locals protest tourism development in Komodo dragon sanctuary

August 22, 2018 by  
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Recently announced tourism infrastructure plans for Indonesia’s Komodo National Park has ignited a string of protests from locals and activists. The park is part of the Pacific Coral Triangle and spans over 29 pristine islands that have been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The area is supposedly protected from development under Indonesian law, which is why residents of the administrative region of the park, known as the West Manggarai district, are in uproar over the plans. In 2014 and 2015, developers PT Komodo Wildlife Ecotourism (KWE) and PT Segara Komodo Lestari (SKL) obtained licenses to build accommodations, a sightseeing facility and a restaurant on the three main islands of the Komodo reserve. The islands, Padar, Rinca and Komodo, are the largest of the 29 that encompass the national park , and the latter two are exclusively dedicated to the Komodo dragon. This awe-inspiring reptile is the world’s largest lizard, but it is also listed as threatened on the IUCN’s Red List . Related: Conservationists rid Florida of invasive iguanas by smashing their heads “The local government, together with the national government and tourism businesses, must maintain Komodo National Park as a conservation zone to ensure tourism that’s environmentally friendly and free from exploitation and commercialization,” said Rafael Todowela, head of the West Manggarai Community Forum to Save Tourism. “Conservation is to protect the Komodo dragons, not investors.” Responding to the uproar, Wiratno, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s director general,  insisted the eco-tourism plans would leave a minimal footprint on the islands. The plans include environmentally friendly building materials that are sourced locally, such as bamboo, as well as solar panels and zero-waste management systems. He said that the developers would be using far less land — around 10 percent of the 600 hectares (1,482 acres) — than they were allocated. Only locals would be employed at the facilities, which would use 5 percent of profits to boost smaller businesses in the area. Wiratno said the locals have no issue with the development plans. But residents, such as Alimudin of Komodo Village, are calling foul. “The locals are banned from doing any development work in any part of the national park for the sake of conservation,” Alimudin said. He also emphasized the residents’ interest in ensuring the protection of the Komodo dragon and its rightful habitat. Agrarian researcher Eko Cahyono said, “The tourism policy is a form of ‘green grabbing’: grabbing the locals’ land under the guise of conservation and environmental protection.” Via Mongabay Images via Christopher Harriot and Laika AC

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Locals protest tourism development in Komodo dragon sanctuary

A breakup in the Arctic’s strongest sea ice is recorded for the first time ever

August 22, 2018 by  
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The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic zone north of Greenland is splitting in a never-before-seen event. The waters found there are so cold, they have been frozen for as long as records exist — even during summer months. For the second time this year, the frozen waters cracked open to reveal the sea beneath them in an event that scientists are calling “scary.” The ice found in the Arctic area north of Greenland is usually compact and unbreakable as a result of the Transpolar Drift Stream, which pushes ice from Siberia across the Arctic Sea, where it packs up on the coastline. The breaking sea ice is a result of a climate-change-driven heatwave that caused abnormal spikes in temperatures both this month and in February 2018. Related: Previously stable zones of Antarctica are now falling victim to climate change This phenomenon has never been recorded before and is said to be caused by warm winds striking the ice pileup on the Arctic coastline. “The ice there has nowhere else to go, so it piles up,” said Walt Meier from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center . “On average, it’s over four meters thick and can be piled up into ridges 20 meters thick or more. This thick, compacted ice is generally not easily moved around.” However, 2018 is seeing the lowest ever recorded sea ice volume since 1979, according to satellite data. “Almost all of the ice to the north of Greenland is quite shattered and broken up and therefore more mobile.” Ruth Mottram of the Danish Meteorological Institute said. “Open water off the north coast of Greenland is unusual. This area has often been called ‘the last ice area’ as it has been suggested that the last perennial sea ice in the Arctic will occur here.” Related: Migratory barnacle geese threatened by rapidly rising Arctic temperatures The event is proving worrisome for climate scientists who explain that the longer the patches of water remain open, the easier it will be for the sea ice to be pushed away from the coast and melt. “The thinning is reaching even the coldest part of the Arctic with the thickest ice,” Meier said. “So it’s a pretty dramatic indication of the transformation of the Arctic sea ice and Arctic climate.” Via The Guardian Image via U.S. Geological Survey

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