It’s artificial intelligence to the rescue (and response and recovery)

December 12, 2019 by  
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A new project aims to use technology to better prepare for climate change-exacerbated natural disasters.

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It’s artificial intelligence to the rescue (and response and recovery)

Puerto Rico’s electricity system is at a crossroads

December 12, 2019 by  
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The territory’s new energy policy became law earlier this year — and regulators are deciding what mix of renewables it has.

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Puerto Rico’s electricity system is at a crossroads

CDP: Greening corporate supply chains could deliver a gigaton of carbon savings

December 12, 2019 by  
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Investor research group urges more corporates to push suppliers to deliver cost-effective emissions reduction.

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CDP: Greening corporate supply chains could deliver a gigaton of carbon savings

Disaster-resilient housing saves lives and dollars

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

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Study shows meal kits are more sustainable than grocery shopping

April 25, 2019 by  
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Meal kit delivery companies eliminate the weekly rush to the grocery store, making meal preparation easier than ever, but are they good for the environment? While some may dismiss these services as being wasteful, a new study reveals that they are actually more eco-friendly than you might think. Researchers compared ingredients commonly used in meal kit deliveries to their grocery store counterparts and found they have a much smaller carbon footprint. According to NPR , meals prepared with ingredients purchased from local grocery stores create around 33 percent more emissions than a meal that comes delivered to your doorstep. “Folks are really focused on the plastics and packaging in meal kits,” University of Michigan’s Shellie Miller explained. “That’s important, but it’s not the full story.” Related: 5 simple ways to reduce your food waste right now Overall, food production makes up around 19 to 29 percent of harmful emissions every year. Plastics are used to keep food preserved, but they actually contribute less to carbon emissions than the production process itself. A good majority of the carbon footprint is related to food waste , a category in which meal kits excel at minimizing. The biggest question, of course, is whether or not the carbon savings offset the plastic use. In the new study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Resources, Conservation and Recycling, researchers subscribed to a meal kit delivery service and purchased the same ingredients they received at a local grocery store. They discovered that they used all of the food provided in the meal kit, producing next to no waste . They were forced to buy larger quantities from the store for each meal, resulting in much larger amounts of food waste, even after accounting for leftovers. While meal kits produce less food waste, they do come with a number of concerns. Plastic waste , mostly from packaging, is one of the biggest issues. It is also difficult to determine how much pollution and energy goes into the shipping process, though most meal kits are sent without using specialty resources. On the whole, researchers hope that the study encourages people to look into where they get their food and consider environmental impacts. Which meal kit services are the best, both in terms of the environment and your budget? There are many meal kit options on the market, each with its own pros and cons. Here are some of the most common services. Sun Basket Sun Basket promises quality in its ingredients over anything else. All of the produce you receive is organic while the meats are free of harmful antibiotics and hormones. You can also select a wide variety of meals based on your diet. For example, Sun Basket offers plans for vegan , paleo, pescatarian and vegetarian diets. Sun Basket offers a two-person plan at $72 a week or a four-person kit for $88. The company delivers all across the United Stations, except for Hawaii, Montana, Alaska and portions of New Mexico. Blue Apron Blue Apron is one of the most popular meal kit delivery services in the country. The company ships you a box every week with fresh ingredients , all of them pre-measured for specific dishes. The company does have a vegetarian option, and its plans start at $56 a month, making it one of the more affordable services out there. Blue Apron delivers all across the contiguous United States, and you can always skip or pause your subscription as needed. Home Chef Home Chef offers a variety of dishes that cater to your every need. You can pick from a dozen different meals and tailor them to fit any dietary restrictions. This includes avoiding nuts, soy, dairy , meats and wheat. The company’s website also features some DIY cooking instructions, which are a great resource if you are not accustomed to cooking at home. When it comes to cost, Home Chef comes in at around $10 a serving. If you pick a plan above $45 a month, then shipping is free. Home Chef delivers nationwide. HelloFresh HelloFresh is another popular meal kit. The company ships you pre-measured ingredients every week, complete with easy-to-follow recipes. You can choose between three weekly options that feed anywhere between two and four people. There are also vegetarian plans that feature three different recipes each week. HelloFresh delivers across the nation and only uses recyclable packaging in the shipping process. Plans with HelloFresh run around $9 a serving for two people and $7 for a family. Gobble Gobble works very similar to Blue Apron in that it does all the meal prep for you — marinating, cutting, peeling — so that you can have a home-cooked meal is around 15 minutes. This is a great service if you have a large family and not enough time to fully prepare meals every day. Like the other companies on this list, Gobble offers a variety of dietary options, including gluten-free, low carb, vegetarian and dairy-free. Gobble’s prices are a little steeper at $71 a week, though its family deals are better. This meal kit delivery service is available across the nation and even comes with a breakfast plan. Via NPR Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Study shows meal kits are more sustainable than grocery shopping

Climate activists will turn up the heat at presidential debate

April 23, 2019 by  
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Young people have been making a lot of noise around the urgency of climate change , and they aren’t quieting down. Following the hotly debated release of the Green New Deal and last month’s Youth Climate Marches in 123 cities, young people in the U.S. are plotting their next high-impact climate action. The Sunrise Movement (the organization pressuring candidates to approve the Green New Deal) plans to stage a massive protest at the first Democratic Primary debate. The Democratic National Committee announced in March that the first debate will be held in Miami on June 26. Long before the date and location were known, the Sunrise Movement began plotting to disrupt the event and make it impossible for the candidates, media and millions of viewers to avoid their climate questions. Their goal is to make sure all presidential hopefuls acknowledge the gravity of climate change and discuss their specific platforms. Related: NYC considers Manhattan land expansion to fight climate change Miami is the perfect location for a debate focused on the impacts of climate change – the city stands to lose between 13 and 34 inches to sea level rise by 2060. Globally, there has been a shift in media and public attention related to climate change and the urgency of taking action. Some of this new attention is thanks to vocal groups like the Sunrise Movement and youth leaders like Greta Thunberg. Some activists have been galvanized by worrisome news, like the International Panel on Climate Change’s recent report that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be irreversible if not addressed within the next 12 years. Still others are alarmed by the uptick in natural disasters – wildfires in California, hurricanes from Texas to Puerto Rico and cyclones in Mozambique. According to a recent poll , 80 percent of Americans believe it is important for presidential candidates to spend “a lot” of time talking about their climate change platforms, with only health care ranking higher as a priority issue. Holding politicians feet to the fire “We’re seeing a shift in people’s consciousness,” Janet Redman, Greenpeace’s climate program manager, told Mother Jones .  “We need to see that starting to be reflected in our politics—that it’s not an isolated set of incidents or phenomenon. The public is craving politicians to have a conversation on this. They want to know real solutions.” Greenpeace has signed on to Sunrise Movement’s plan to disrupt the debate, along with other environmental advocacy groups including 350.org, Credo Action and Friends of the Earth. The Democratic National Convention does not control the questions at the debate – the TV network hosting the event gets to choose. However, previous debates have focused on single themes before – such as the economy or national security. Climate activists argue that previous debate questions about the environment have been too vague. Questions like “Do you believe climate change is real?” are no longer adequate for the majority of young people, who accept climate science and want concrete solutions, specific proposals and accountability. “My fear is there will be some softball climate questions that aren’t specific, aren’t digging deep, [and] therefore make it hard for us to make any candidate who is elected accountable,” said Janet Redman. “What we’re trying to do by focusing on primaries is pulling the entire field of candidates to bolder positions.” What questions would they like to hear? Redman explained questions that force candidates to take explicit positions will help the American public understand their different stances and make informed voting decisions. For example, she would like to see questions as specific as demanding candidates express their opinions about leasing public land to fossil fuel companies. Plans to #ChangetheDebate “Our demands are simple: all presidential contenders must back the Green New Deal or face the contempt of young people everywhere, and the mainstream media must fully cover climate change or slide further into irrelevance,” Lora Zaguilan, a Sunrise Movement organizer in Northern California told Inhabitat. Over ten million people tune in to watch the debates, so the protests have the potential to create a massive, but peaceful, impact. “The tactics like civil disobedience and powerful stories that we used to put the Green New Deal on the map in D.C. this past Fall are some of our best tools,” says the Sunrise website . The site calls on activists and young people to show up in Miami for the debate, claiming thousands have already registered to attend what is being called by its hashtag, #ChangetheDebate. Via Mother Jones Images via Ella McDonald

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Climate activists will turn up the heat at presidential debate

Hurricane Harvey has increased homelessness in Houston

May 25, 2018 by  
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Last August, Hurricane Harvey set records as the costliest hurricane in history and the wettest tropical cyclone ever in the U.S. The storm displaced more than 30,000 people, many of whom are still struggling to recover in the aftermath. A new report from The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County documents the notable increase in homelessness since the devastating hurricane. The results of the Coalition’s Point-In-Time Homeless Count and Survey, which occurred from January 23 to 25 of this year, were released during a “State of Homelessness” panel discussion at the Junior League in downtown Houston on May 23. More than 4,100 people were surveyed to gather data for the report, and 18 percent of those surveyed reported that they had become homeless as a result of Hurricane Harvey. The survey was conducted by the Coalition on behalf of the local Continuum of Care, also known as The Way Home , an organization formed to provide a planning process for addressing homelessness as required by federal regulations. In 1994, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development implemented a requirement that communities receiving federal funding must submit a single, comprehensive application detailing how they plan to address homelessness. The Continuum of Care serves this need. Related: The public health impact of Hurricane Harvey is worse than we’ve been told President and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless Marilyn Brown explained that Hurricane Harvey made it difficult for the Coalition to address the rising problems of homelessness in Houston, with funds spread thin to meet increasing needs. While all major cities in Texas reported a recent rise in homelessness, the increase in Houston is notably higher, likely because of Hurricane Harvey’s continued impact on the region. Meanwhile, cities are preparing for the upcoming hurricane season, which may have an especially devastating effect on people struggling with homelessness. Via Earther and Houston Patch Image via Depositphotos

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Hurricane Harvey has increased homelessness in Houston

Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act

May 25, 2018 by  
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Activists and scientists are concerned over the inclusion of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that could threaten the survival of the endangered Greater Sage-Grouse and Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The provision would prevent the Lesser Prairie-Chicken from receiving protection under the Endangered Species Act for at least ten years, despite evidence of population decline suggesting that the Prairie-Chicken needs to be legally protected. It would also weaken safeguards put in place to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse, while clearing away regulatory obstacles for oil and gas development. “We urge U.S. Representatives to oppose the grouse and prairie chicken rider,” Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy said in a statement . “This provision has nothing to do with national defense, will place imperiled species on the path to extinction and should be stricken.” Both species live in isolated populations that are greatly diminished from their pre-contact levels, with the number of grouse falling from 15 million to fewer than 300,000 today. The prairie-chicken population dropped 50 percent between 2012 and 2013, and its range continues to shrink. Congressional changes to the Endangered Species Act could further threaten the birds . “Endangered Species Act protection provides an essential backstop to hedge against species extinction, particularly in light of major increases in oil and gas drilling in priority grouse habitats in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Colorado ,” Holmer explained. Related: ‘Acoustic lighthouses’ could warn birds about wind turbines While a 2015 review of the status of the Greater Sage-Grouse led to more favorable protections, it did not result in its listing on the Endangered Species Act. Now, those limited protections could be rolled back by Congress . Perhaps the more impactful provision requirement is that the Lesser Prairie-Chicken not be placed on the Endangered Species list for ten years, regardless of scientific opinion. Holmer said, “Potentially the most devastating provision is the one that precludes judicial review of these listing moratoria, which prevents the public from seeking protection for these species even if they are on the very brink of extinction .” Via American Bird Conservancy Images via USFWS Mountain-Prairie (1)

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Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act

FEMA contractor failed to deliver millions of emergency meals to Puerto Rico

February 8, 2018 by  
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Millions of meals never made their way to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria , according to Reuters . United States Democratic lawmakers recently said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded a contract of almost $156 million to a one-person company – which delivered 50,000 of an anticipated 30 million meals. The Atlanta-based FEMA contractor Tribute Contracting reneged on their commitment to deliver millions of meals to Puerto Rico after the island faced its “worst natural disaster in 90 years,” Reuters reported. House Oversight Committee Democrats referred to documents revealing the company delivered just thousands of meals. They were terminated for cause 20 days after they won the October 2017 contract from FEMA. This, the Democrats say, led to a “massive food shortage for weeks.” Related: $30M contract cancelled by FEMA after supplies to Puerto Rico fail to arrive Documents show Tribute had issues handling government contracts under $100,000 in the past and were barred from government work until 2019, according to Reuters. Elijah Cummings, representative for Maryland and top Democrat on the committee, and Stacey Plaskett, delegate for the United States Virgin Islands, wrote, “It is unclear why FEMA or any agency would have proceeded with a contract worth $156 million in light of this company’s poor contracting history and these explicit warnings.” Plaskett and Cummings sent a letter to chairman Trey Gowdy, Republican representative for South Carolina, asking him to subpoena FEMA for documents they say it has withheld for over three months regarding the failure to provide millions of emergency meals. They said in the letter their staff spoke with Tribute Contracting owner Tiffany Brown, who “explained that FEMA awarded the contract ‘because I was able to submit a proposal to supply 30 million meals at the cheapest cost.’ She stated that she ‘worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week to try and provide these emergency meals.’ She also explained FEMA knew she could not independently finance the production and delivery of this many meals in such a short time frame.” Gowdy spokesperson Amanda Gonzalez told Reuters although a subpoena was premature, they will continue to review hurricane recovery efforts. FEMA didn’t comment on Tribute but told Reuters when the contract was terminated, the distribution of food on the island “was not affected.” + House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Democrats + Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Letter Via Reuters Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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FEMA contractor failed to deliver millions of emergency meals to Puerto Rico

Off-grid Ecocapsule microhomes finally make their international debut

February 8, 2018 by  
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We’ve been following the the solar- and wind-powered Ecocapsule microhome since it first burst onto the design scene. Now, nearly 10 years after the visionary concept was born, its Bratislava-based designers are finally making their international debut with an exclusive release of 50 off-grid dwellings that can be installed pretty much anywhere. Although this round of smart, self-sufficient tiny dwellings will only be available to customers living in the United States, Japan, Australia and EU, the second mass-produced series could be available as soon as the end of 2018. Despite its futuristic design, the Ecocapsule encapsulates a great deal of what makes a building truly sustainable . Albeit made of fiberglass and steel, neither of which are renewable like bamboo or hemp, it deserves major kudos for its ability to generate its own energy with included solar panels and a wind turbine, and collect and filter its own water–all in a compact module with a negligible footprint. It is 15.32-feet-long, 7.22-feet-wide, and 14.76-feet-tall (wind turbine included). Ecocapsule’s Matej Gyárfáš said the wind turbine produces 750W of clean energy, while the embedded solar panels produce 880W at peak. The energy is stored in a battery with a capacity of 9kWh, though the whole microhome can be plugged into an external outlet if additional electricity is necessary. With its two water tanks at full capacity, the unit weighs 3,638 pounds. Made to sleep up to two people, the Ecocapsule can be transported in a shipping container , by passenger car with a trailer hitch, or by helicopter, which is how the first completed unit was carried to the roof of Bratislava’s UNIQ building (see attached picture in the gallery) on January 31, 2018. It has a clean, open interior design with plenty of natural light, and its spheroid shape promotes water collection while also ensuring optimal energy retention. Related: Solar-powered Ecocapsule lets you live off the grid anywhere in the world Gyárfáš said the design was originally intended as a “frontier dwelling, a housing unit for people who need to stay in nature for a longer time – e.g. scientists, photographers, rangers or extreme tourists.” But the design’s easy mobility, containerization and long-term energy independence expanded its potential, he said. He says it can be quickly shipped in “ rapid response situations where infrastructure is damaged” and even function as a “small power plant and water filtration unit.” The Ecocapsule can be installed on rooftops or vacant urban spaces, out in the middle of nature, or even in vineyards. According to the company, it is “a multipurpose unit, which can be used as a house, caravan, houseboat , hotel, or a research station.” Each of the first 50 pieces cost $89,000, according to Gyárfáš. Prices for the next iteration will be lower, but that number has not been revealed. All images via Ecocapsule

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Off-grid Ecocapsule microhomes finally make their international debut

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