We are in the sixth mass extinction, and it’s accelerating

June 4, 2020 by  
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The Earth is in the midst of a sixth mass extinction , and it’s picking up speed. New research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences updates the threats first detailed in a 2015 study. Species are disappearing faster than previously thought, the new study says. The cascading effect of collapsing ecosystems is making the planet steadily less habitable for people as well. “When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system,” said Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, co-author of the paper, in a press release from Stanford University. “The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to climate disruption to which it is linked.” Related: Trump administration moves to weaken Endangered Species Act amid global extinction risks The researchers analyzed numbers and distribution of critically endangered species. They determined that 515 species of terrestrial vertebrates have fewer than 1,000 individuals left, meaning they’re very close to extinction . Nearly half of those species have fewer than 250 surviving members, mostly due to human encroachment. The first five mass extinctions in the last 450 million years each destroyed 70% to 95% of animal, plant and microorganism species . Huge changes to the environment, such as asteroids, volcanic eruptions or depletion of oceanic oxygen caused the first five. The sixth, the study finds, is our doing. Almost all loss of species has happened since humans developed agriculture , about 11,000 years ago. Back then, there were only about a million of us. Now we number 7.7 billion, and that number is growing fast . “As our numbers have grown, humanity has come to pose an unprecedented threat to the vast majority of its living companions,” the study says. According to the study, it is a “moral imperative” for scientists to do whatever they can to stop extinction via the following suggestions: the International Union for Conservation of Nature should immediately classify any species with fewer than 5,000 remaining members as critically endangered; governments and institutions should elevate conservation of endangered species to a global emergency; illegal wildlife trade must stop now and the ban must be strictly enforced; and alternative food must be provided to low-income communities, especially in Africa, who depend on bush meat for survival. There’s no time to lose. “There is no doubt, for example, that there will be more pandemics if we continue destroying habitats and trading wildlife for human consumption as food and traditional medicines,” the study warns. “It is something that humanity cannot permit, as it may be a tipping point for the collapse of civilization.” + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Via Stanford News Service Image via Alex Strachan

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We are in the sixth mass extinction, and it’s accelerating

This moment: An open letter to the GreenBiz community

June 2, 2020 by  
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This moment: An open letter to the GreenBiz community Joel Makower Tue, 06/02/2020 – 02:11 In the wee hours of Nov. 9, 2016, shortly after Donald Trump was declared the 45th president of the United States, I sat down and penned a note to the GreenBiz community. A lot of us were shocked, confused, depressed and angry that this vulgar man, who saw climate change as a hoax and “beautiful clean coal” as our savior, would be setting the national agenda at such a critical time. It was “a stunning and devastating indictment of decency, fairness and inclusion,” I wrote that morning. And: It will be critically important, for both our individual sanity and our collective future, that we stay the course, double down, make every program, project, partnership and product count. That was then. The past few days, in the wake of the national upheaval over the death of yet another black man at the hands of yet another white police officer, have been similarly filled with angst and anger within the sustainability community. “What do we do?” we’ve asked one another. Should we simply stay the course, doubling down on our work on climate and the clean economy, which is growing more urgent by the day? Or do we stop, take stock and rethink what we do? Today, I’m not sure that staying the course is, in and of itself, what’s needed. It may be time for a radical rethink: Given all that’s changing, what does the world need of us now? Whether you come from privilege or poverty, whether your education comes from the best schools or the streets, whatever your politics or identity, this is a brutally tough moment. The coronavirus and economic crash already had laid bare the inequity and disparity among the classes and races: those who have a job and those who don’t; those who are able to earn a living at home versus those who must risk going to an employer’s workplace during a pandemic; those who are able to afford food, shelter and healthcare, even amid economic upheaval, and those who can’t; those who feel comfortable walking or driving or just being outside their home, and those who fear that any moment could lead to their becoming the next George Floyd, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice or Sandra Bland. Now, all of those inequities and disparities have been cast into the open. To the extent they existed in the shadows — festering societal problems to which those with power and privilege largely threw up their hands — they are now center stage. To the extent these problems could be ignored — that one could live life without having to reckon with race, poverty and inequality — they have been thrust onto our individual and collective doorsteps. To the extent they were topics relegated to hushed, private conversations — well, those conversations are full-throated, 24/7 and inescapable. To the extent these problems could be ignored — that one could live life without having to reckon with race, poverty and inequality — they have been thrust onto our individual and collective doorsteps. The calamities of 2020 — the physical, economic, social and psychological crises we’d already been confronting these past few months — have contributed to this raw moment, the culmination of centuries of systemic oppression and institutionalized racism. Words of comfort, of healing and hope, aren’t cutting it, and they shouldn’t. For those of us working in sustainability, it raises some fundamental questions. Among them: What led you to this work in the first place? Was it to protect the unprotected? To ensure the well-being of future generations? To engender community resilience? To create solutions to big, seemingly intractable problems? Or maybe, simply, “to make the world a better place”? If so, then this is the moment to live up to those lofty goals — fully and, most likely, uncomfortably. That means having difficult conversations with family, colleagues, friends and peers. It means recognizing — really, truly recognizing, not just mouthing the words — that nothing is sustainable if people are in pain. It matters little how much renewable energy is generated, how many circular supply chains are created, how much organic or regenerative food is produced if our fellow citizens are being exploited, discriminated against, threatened and worse. This is what ‘sustainability’ should be about — the security and well-being of all species. This is what “sustainability” should be about — the security and well-being of all species, including humans — and it no doubt will provoke nodding heads among many of you. But nodding heads aren’t enough. They never were and certainly aren’t now. This is a moment for the private sector to step up. Not just in helping to calm and heal, although that will be a critical task in the coming days and weeks, but also to lobby for justice: economic justice, racial justice, criminal justice, climate justice. And to deeply understand what these terms even mean, and how they relate to creating the societal value that is the beating heart of business.  This is a seminal moment that is testing all of us — those in sustainability, certainly, along with most everyone else. And as we work on or support societal solutions — and countless ideas are likely to come out of this, from every conceivable source — it’s important to ask some simple but profound questions: Who’s setting the rules? Who’s calling the shots? Who’s being heard? Who’s left out? Who’s benefiting from the status quo and from the proposed solutions? Does it empower the marginalized or merely placate the restless? These are the kinds of questions that have been woefully absent in the past. And we are living with the result. If we are to change the course, not simply aim to get back to some elusive “normal,” these questions will need to be asked and answered. Failure to do that will lead us right back to where we are. I’d like to end on a positive, hopeful note, much as I tried to do back in November 2016. But hope and positivity are in short supply right now. So I’ll just say this: Don’t underestimate your power in this moment. You may not feel powerful, particularly in light of the deafening voices screaming in the streets and on our screens. But there is power in us all: to care for those around us, to contribute time and resources at the community and national levels, to take the time to truly comprehend the issues before us and to understand that silence is complicity. Pull Quote To the extent these problems could be ignored — that one could live life without having to reckon with race, poverty and inequality — they have been thrust onto our individual and collective doorsteps. This is what ‘sustainability’ should be about — the security and well-being of all species. Topics Policy & Politics Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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This moment: An open letter to the GreenBiz community

Robert De Niro and partners to open a garden hotel in Poland

May 29, 2020 by  
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If a glimpse into history is on your bucket list, a stay at the soon-to-open Nobu hotel in Poland can help put a check in that column. Decimated by World War II, the city of Warsaw originated in the 1300s and has been under meticulous reconstruction for decades. Blending the old with the new, historical architecture is balanced with nearby neighborhoods that are alive with trendy wine bars, art galleries and cafes. Joining the creative hub is the newest addition to the Nobu family of hotels being built by Nobu Hospitality, a globally established lifestyle brand owned by actor Robert De Niro, chef Nobu Matsuhisa and film producer Meir Teper. The heart of this capital city will be the site of the V-shaped hotel. Nobu Hotel Warsaw will feature 117 sleek and spacious rooms along with meeting and event spaces, an expansive fitness center and the signature Nobu Restaurant and café. “Nobu Hotel Warsaw is a really exciting project for us,” said Trevor Horwell, Chief Executive Officer of Nobu Hotels . “The luxury hospitality market has been gaining momentum in Warsaw for a while. There’s a certain type of energy that extends far beyond the bricks and mortar – we’re very excited to be at the forefront of this new wave of lifestyle and hospitality development – and being from Poland originally, this opening is particularly exciting for our co-founder Meir Teper.” While luxury and the location are undeniably enticing, the building design also represents a marriage of the historic with modern elements that feed a need to completely understand the multifaceted city. Half of the hotel is housed in what used to be the Hotel Rialto, a building dating back to the 1920s that represents Art Deco design elements. A lobby connects this sample of Warsaw’s past to the other wing of the hotel, an ultra-contemporary space designed in collaboration with Polish architectural firm Medusa Group and California-based Studio PCH. The outdoor space features a pyramid of balconies with living gardens for a contrast of green space to cityscape. Hotel Nobu Warsaw is one of 18 hotels by Nobu Hospitality spanning five continents, each offering premium service, unique design elements and an extraordinary culinary experience. The Hotel Nobu Warsaw is expected to open in August 2020. + Nobu Hotel Images via ?ukasz K?pielewski

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ODonnellBrown designs affordable, modular outdoor classroom

April 1, 2020 by  
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In a bid to support creative and independent learning in the outdoors, Glasgow-based architectural practice  O’DonnellBrown  has designed and built a prototype for a Community Classroom that can be assembled, adapted and dismounted in a cinch. Completed for just £10,000 (roughly $11,278), the entirely self-initiated project is based on a kit of parts that was developed using standard structural timber section sizes that make up the skeletal frame. The use of plywood modules empowers the classroom’s users to easily reconfigure the space to suit a diverse range of activities. Stripped down to a simple plywood skeletal frame, the minimalist Community Classroom combines function with beautiful architectural expression. The prototype, which was completed in September 2019 in Glasgow, measures 24 square meters of gross internal space but can be easily expanded thanks to its  modular  system. The Community Classroom kit comes with an easy-to-follow construction manual and can also be equipped with modules for seating, shelving, worktops and presentation surfaces. “The  classroom  is intended to promote and support creative and independent learning in a healthy, versatile and fun environment,” a Community Classroom press release stated. “It has been designed in line with the Curriculum for Excellence and the National Improvement Framework, to facilitate inclusive learning and mental wellbeing.” Sponsors and stakeholders, including the RIAS and Saint-Gobain, have provided material and technical support for the project.  Related: A modular classroom for environmental education pops up in a Barcelona park True to its name, the Community Classroom was developed alongside the  community , including the national children’s charity Barnado’s Works, which helped connect young volunteers to the project. The Community Classroom has hosted community-based workshops and events, including a craft workshop by local community center Nan McKay Hall. This project will continue to host events by a diverse range of users in the future as part of its mission to raise the bar for outdoor learning opportunities. + O’DonnellBrown Images © Ross Campbell

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Sustainability for York National Railway Museum Central Hall

April 1, 2020 by  
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London-based architecture practice  Feilden Fowles  has won an international design competition to create the new Central Hall for the National Railway Museum in York, England. Slated for completion in time for the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2025, the new centerpiece building will vastly improve the visitor experience while introducing an ambitious energy strategy to dramatically cut the site-wide operational carbon footprint by 80%. Following the firm’s low-tech philosophy, the design will minimize reliance on concrete and steel in favor of prefabricated timber materials while emphasizing passive design strategies.  In winning the two-phase design competition organized by Malcolm Reading Consultants, Feilden Fowles beat 75 other design firms with their Central Hall proposal that pays homage to the site’s former uses. The building’s central two-story rotunda is directly inspired by the history of locomotive roundhouses and railway turntables. Recycled patinated copper will clad the structure, the interior of which will feel warm and inviting thanks to a predominately timber palette and the abundance of natural light that flows through high clerestory glazing  and a skylight fitted in the center of its beautifully engineered roof structure. The new welcome and orientation space will host a wide variety of programming, including gallery spaces for the  museum’s  world-class collection, recreational areas, retail and public-facing community spaces. The Central Hall also connects to the five museum portals: the main entrance, Great Hall, Wonderlab, Exhibition Hall, the shop and a new cafe.  Related: Kengo Kuma unveils bold timber museum in Turkey that pays homage to the region’s Ottoman heritage Sustainability is a major driving factor behind the Central Hall, a timber-framed building that will be built with traditional, locally sourced materials wherever possible. In addition to the creation of a new energy center with air-source or ground-source heat pumps powered by  solar  energy, the building follows passive solar principles to enhance thermal comfort and reduce reliance on mechanical systems. Larger spanning and prefabrication of timber elements will also be used to ensure higher quality control and to reduce construction waste.  + Feilden Fowles Images by Feilden Fowles

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Trump administration rolls back fuel efficiency standards

April 1, 2020 by  
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While most of the nation shelters in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 , the Trump administration continues to dilute Obama-era environmental regulations. In his latest move, Trump has rolled back vehicle emission standards. Instead of Obama’s requirement of 5% increases in fuel efficiency through 2026, Trump dropped that figure to 1.5%. This more relaxed policy will save automakers at least $1 billion in compliance costs, according to the Trump administration. Business groups lauded the change. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the policy a “workable path forward on a unified national program that provides regulatory certainty while strengthening fuel economy standards and continuing emissions reductions,” Reuters reported . Related: EPA suspends environmental law enforcement But environmentalists aren’t going to accept a lax attitude on pollution without a fight. At least 23 states plan to challenge the new policy, including California. Xavier Becerra, attorney general of California, said Trump is weakening “standards that protect our health and environment from polluting contaminants emitted by cars and trucks.” Under Obama’s rules, the U.S. vehicle fleet would average 46.7 miles per gallon. The Trump administration’s policy will see an average of 40.4 miles per gallon. The administration estimates the rollback will result in Americans consuming an additional two billion barrels of oil , releasing 867 to 923 more metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and paying an extra $1,000 in fuel costs over the life of a single vehicle. This is the latest of the Trump administration’s reversals to environmental policies. Last week, the administration suspended the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement of environmental laws for the duration of the pandemic, so businesses won’t face any consequences for pollution during this time. Trump has also removed the United States from a global climate accord. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, rebuked the Trump administration “for exploiting the cover of a pandemic to roll back the clean car standards, which are crucial public health safeguards.” Via Reuters Image via Pixabay

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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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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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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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