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

FEMA scrubs statistics on Puerto Rico’s lack of water and electricity from website

October 6, 2017 by  
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After Hurricane Maria — a category 4 storm — knocked out power for Puerto Rico ’s 3.5 million citizens, the FEMA website became a major lifeline for Americans to stay informed of recovery efforts. However just yesterday vital details vanished from the agency’s website – including statistics on how many people have access to electricity and clean water . Now, only information that showcases recovery efforts in a positive light is available. As a result, it is difficult to know the true extent of damages in Puerto Rico, and how citizens are coping with the aftermath. On Wednesday, the website clearly stated that 5 percent of Puerto Rican citizens have access to electricity and 50 percent have access to clean water. Later that night, the information was erased. As Gizmodo reports, more “positive” information is now shared, including the percentage of hospitals open (92 percent) and the percentage of grocery stores open (65 percent). There’s no longer any data on water availability – instead, there’s a new section on “Water/Wastewater Impacts,” and the only thing it reveals is that 64 percent of wastewater treatments are functioning. Also, instead of an Infographic detailing recovery efforts, there is now a photo of helicopters delivering relief supplies and another of a soldier hugging Puerto Rican residents. Information on the number of federal staff (14,000) and FEMA personnel (800) on the ground are still available on the website. Information on open airports (100 percent) and miles of roadway cleared in total (20 miles) is forefront and centered on the website, as well. When pressed for question, a FEMA spokesperson told The Washington Post that the information is still available on the Spanish website , which Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló maintains. Reportedly, the FEMA spokesperson had no idea why the federal agency was erasing information from its own site “that made it look bad.” Related: The Puerto Rico nursery still up and running thanks to solar power Some suspect President Trump’s recent visit had something to do with the agency deleting valuable statistics. When Trump visited the island earlier this week, he seemed more concerned with his reputation than actually helping the less fortunate. In fact, Trump “jokingly” told the storm-ravaged people that he was spending too much money on them. “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you are throwing our budget out of whack,” Trump said. “We’ve spent a lot of money in Puerto Rico .” The President added that Hurricane Maria wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina. FEMA spokesperson William Booher told The Washington Post: “Our mission is to support the governor and his response priorities through the unified command structure to help Puerto Ricans recover and return to routines. Information on the stats you are specifically looking for are readily available.” + FEMA Via Gizmodo, The Washington Post Images via Hayales De Coama , FEMA , CNN, The Japan Times

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FEMA scrubs statistics on Puerto Rico’s lack of water and electricity from website

Dozens of Japanese cities and towns quietly go off-grid

September 19, 2017 by  
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Dozens of cities and towns in Japan have quietly shifted from traditional utility-based grid power system to a more local, resilient model of generating and storing energy where it is used. After significant damage caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, many Japanese municipalities rebuilt to be more equipped for the 21st century through the country’s National Resilience Program. The Program offers 3.72 trillion yen ($33.32 billion) in funding each fiscal year to be distributed to local communities seeking to become more self-reliant and locally empowered. “Since Fukushima , there has been a gradual elaboration of policies to realize that kind of local autonomy, local consumption paradigm,” said Andrew Dewit, a professor of energy policy at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. Although the Resilience Program was designed for recovering from and adapting to natural disasters, it has blossomed into a powerful tool in the fight against climate change . “At the time of the Great East Japan earthquake, we couldn’t secure power and had to go through incredible hardships,” said Yusuke Atsumi, a manager at HOPE, a utility created to service this new localized energy model. Under the old system, a “blackout at one area would lead to wide-scale power outages. But the independent distributed micro-grid can sustain power even if the surrounding area is having a blackout.” Related: Japan’s new mushroom solar farms produce sustainable energy and food In its recovery from the earthquake , which destroyed 75 percent of its homes and killed 1,100 of its residents, the city of Higashi Matsushima constructed micro-grids and decentralized renewable power generation that currently allows the city to produce 25 percent of its power needs without tapping into the main grid . Additionally, the city has installed batteries capable of storing enough energy to run the city for three days without access to the grid. “We are moving towards a day when we won’t be building large-scale power plants,” said Takao Kashiwagi, renewable energy luminary who serves as head of the New Energy Promotion Council and designed Japan’s first smart city . “Instead, we will have distributed power systems, where small power supply systems are in place near the consumption areas.” In light of the program’s success, the Japanese government seeks to increase funding for the Resilience Program by 24 percent in the next fiscal year. Via Reuters Images via Save the Children Canada/Wikimedia ,  DepositPhotos , and Pavel Ahmed/Flickr

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Dozens of Japanese cities and towns quietly go off-grid

Three hurricanes form in the Atlantic for the first time since 2010

September 7, 2017 by  
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While Hurricane Irma barrels through the Caribbean towards the United States mainland, another two potentially powerful storms are waiting in the wings. Following closely behind Irma, one of the strongest hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, are Tropical Storms Jose and Katia. The presence of these storms marks the first time since 2010 that three active hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic. In what may prove to be one of the most active on record , the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has already demonstrated the unpredictable and explosive power of storms in the age of climate change . Jose, like Irma, is known as a Cape Verde hurricane for its origins in the far eastern Atlantic , near the island nation of Cape Verde off the coast of Africa . However, it is unlikely that Jose will follow Irma’s path nor will it likely be as powerful. Jose is expected to spin towards the open ocean and become a Category 3 hurricane, though it is not expected to travel over any land area. Related: Harvey forces National Weather Service to add new color to its rainfall map Katia is more closely related to Harvey, in that it too became a hurricane in the warm waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico. Despite its shared birthplace with the devastating hurricane that made landfall near Houston , Katia is expected to travel close to Mexico . It is currently nearly 200 miles northeast of Veracruz, Mexico, near which a small portion of the coast is currently under hurricane watch. Although three hurricanes active in the Atlantic at the same time is unusual, it is neither unprecedented nor unrivaled. During the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, four hurricanes, including Hurricane Georges which caused major damage in Haiti and the Dominican Republic , were active during the same period. Via CNN Images via NOAA (1)

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Three hurricanes form in the Atlantic for the first time since 2010

Arctic warming likely turned Harvey into "an extreme killer storm"

August 31, 2017 by  
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Melting Arctic ice and spiking temperatures don’t just affect the northernmost part of Earth. According to Cornell University professor Charles Greene, they can also impact storms , like Hurricane Harvey, that are thousands of miles away – prompting them to stall or meander. He said in a statement, “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. Just like Superstorm Sandy , Arctic warming likely played an important role in making Hurricane Harvey such an extreme killer storm.” Greene said warming in the Arctic slows jet streams, or global air currents, impacting the nature of big storms like Harvey, which so far has poured around 24.5 trillion gallons of rain on Texas and Louisiana. Researchers can be reluctant to say exactly how climate change might have altered a certain storm, though many agree rising sea levels can cause higher surges, while higher temperatures in the air and sea surfaces will thrust more water into the atmosphere, which then falls as precipitation. Related: 7 ways you can help people affected by Tropical Storm Harvey Gizmodo spoke to several other scientists, and at least one, climate scientist Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was unsure warming had a significant role in Harvey. Penn State University climate scientist Richard Alley told Gizmodo, “Mostly, this is weather – big, dangerous weather, but still weather. But, because of global warming the ocean is a little higher than it otherwise would be, and that made the storm surge higher.” Meanwhile Greene compared Harvey to Superstorm Sandy, which also lingered instead of swerving out to the ocean as he said 90 percent of most late-season hurricanes do. He said, “ Houston would have suffered much less damage if Category 4 Hurricane Harvey had just crashed through the city and petered out in West Texas. But instead, the storm system is stalled in place and just continues to dump record amounts of rainfall from the Gulf on the city.” Via Huffington Post South Africa and Gizmodo Images via NASA and Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West

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Arctic warming likely turned Harvey into "an extreme killer storm"

Midwest greenhouse heated with geothermal energy produces citrus year-round for $1 per day

August 31, 2017 by  
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Those who live in the Midwest United States understand how difficult it can be to eat local during winter. But for Russ Finch and his community, the task isn’t too difficult. A former mailman living in Nebraska , Finch designed a greenhouse that produces lemons, grapefruit-sized oranges, green figs, and grapes — all for just $1 a day. His magic trick? Geothermal heating. Finch calls his structure the Greenhouse in the Snow . The original, which he constructed more than 20 years ago, is connected to his home. Finch specifically grew citrus in the greenhouse to prove that it’s possible. “Any type of plant we saw, we would put it in and see what it could do. We didn’t baby anything,” said Finch. “We just put it in and if it died, it died. But most everything really grows well. We can grow practically any tropical plant.” NPR reports that the structure’s design is base don a walipini, or a pit greenhouse. The floor has been dug down 4 feet below the surface, and the roof has a slant toward the south to catch the sun’s rays. During the daytime, temperatures in the greenhouse can reach over 80 degrees F. At night, geothermal heat is relied on to combat the plummeting temperatures. Only warm air is used to heat the greenhouse — no propane or electric heaters. Warm air is obtained from perforated plastic tubing that is buried underground. The tubing runs out one end of the greenhouse and extends in a loop to the opposite side. It is circulated via a single fan. “All we try to do is keep it above 28 degrees in the winter,” said Finch. “We have no backup system for heat . The only heat source is the Earth’s heat, at 52 degrees at 8-foot deep.” Because the 1,200 square foot greenhouse is not dependent on fossil fuels , energy costs are down to just $1 a day. Particularly in midwestern states, low energy costs matter. “There have been hardly any successful 12-month greenhouses on the northern High Plains because of the weather,” said Finch. ”The cost of energy is too high for it. But by tapping into the Earth’s heat, we’ve been able to drastically reduce the cost.” Related: Russian ice skating rink doubles as a solar-powered outdoor cinema and geothermal spa Every year, the farmer grows a few hundred pounds of fruit which he sells at a local farmers market. His main business is selling the design for the Greenhouse in the Snow. A new version of his invention costs $22,000 to build. Finch says he has constructed 17 of them so far, throughout the United States and Canada. While Finch might not be able to supply a supermarket with the crops he grows, he can provide fresh produce to his local community. If more people in the rural midwest invested in greenhouses that rely on geothermal energy, carbon emissions from shipping fruit and vegetables all over the country would be reduced. This, in turn, would benefit the environment and people’s health as fresh, organically-grown food is more nutrient-dense and retains more flavor. + Greenhouse in the Snow Via NPR Images via Pixabay, YouTube

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Midwest greenhouse heated with geothermal energy produces citrus year-round for $1 per day

Explosions rock Houston-area chemical plant following Hurricane Harvey flooding

August 31, 2017 by  
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Several explosions at a Houston-area chemical plant were reported on early Thursday morning, reportedly related to its loss of power. Black smoke billowed from the Arkema Inc. chemical plant in Crosby, Texas as blasts rocked the site, which remains submerged under six feet of floodwater. The Arkema plant is one of many in the region; this part of Texas is home to the one of the densest concentrations of pipelines, refineries and chemical plants in the country. The storm damage is certain to exacerbate the public health threat of Hurricane Harvey long after the rain has stopped. On Tuesday, prior to the explosions, officials ordered a mandatory evacuation zone for a 1.5 mile radius surrounding the plant. The Arkema plant was shut down before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the Houston-area, though 11 employees remained behind to service the facility. As the unprecedented floodwaters pushed in, the remaining team was evacuated as fumes began to pour out of the powerless plant. Several deputies from the Harris County Sheriff’s office were hospitalized for inhaling toxic chemicals . Related: 7 ways you can help people affected by Tropical Storm Harvey Arkema produces organic peroxides, compounds with a wide variety of applications, from construction materials to pharmaceuticals. Usually the volatile chemicals are kept under control through cold storage. However, without power , there is no refrigeration. “As the temperature rises, the natural state of these materials will decompose. A white smoke will result, and that will catch fire,” Arkema spokesperson Janet Smith told press. Arkema was previously mandated by the EPA to produce a report outlining the potential risks of the plant and plans for worst-case scenarios, which, according to Arkema’s submitted report, could potentially impact 1.1 million residents over a distance of 23 miles. However, the company reports that it is incorporating “multiple layers of preventative and mitigation measures” to ensure that the worst does not come to pass. Via Time and Washington Post Images via Google Maps

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Explosions rock Houston-area chemical plant following Hurricane Harvey flooding

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