One-quarter of UK mammals face threat of extinction

July 31, 2020 by  
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While tigers and elephants regally pose for endangered animal posters, many smaller creatures are fading away unnoticed. Now scientists are bringing attention to the dire outlook for less glamorous native U.K. mammals, claiming that one-quarter of them are at imminent risk of extinction. The scientists put 11 mammals on the U.K.’s first official Red List of endangered species . This list categorizes species according to their conservation status, using internationally agreed upon criteria. Related: Right Whales now ranked as critically endangered species “When we draw all the evidence together — about population size and how isolated and fragmented those populations are — we come up with this list of 11 of our 47 native species being threatened imminently,” Fiona Mathews of the Mammal Society told BBC News. “And there are more species that are categorized as ‘near threatened’.” The study concluded that the Scottish wildcat and the greater mouse-eared bat are the U.K.’s most critically endangered mammals. Beaver, red squirrel, water vole and grey long-eared bats ranked as endangered. The vulnerable category included the hedgehog, hazel dormouse, Orkney vole, Serotine bat and Barbastelle bat . “The three categories of threat — critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable — tell you about the probability of the animal becoming extinct within this imminent timeframe,” Mathews said. The U.K. Red List was produced for official nature agencies of England, Wales and Scotland and has been approved by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature ( IUCN ). The biggest reason for plummeting populations is habitat loss. A 2019 report on U.K. wildlife called the country among the most nature-depleted in the world. Many animal species in the U.K. have decreased by an average of 60% since 1970. Invasive species are another factor. Disease-ridden grey squirrels moved in and killed off endangered red squirrels, who lost more than 60% of their range just in the last 13 years. American mink that escaped from fur farms — and who can blame them — ate many native water voles. Scientists lacked enough information to assess the status of some mammals, including the wild boar and whiskered bat. They assigned five animals into the “near threatened” category, meaning they’re slightly too populous to make the Red List: the mountain hare, harvest mouse, lesser white-toothed shrew, Leisler’s bat and Nathusius’ pipistrelle. Via The Guardian and BBC Image via Peter Trimming

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One-quarter of UK mammals face threat of extinction

Nature lovers rejoice as Great American Outdoors Act wins House vote

July 24, 2020 by  
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On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the  Great American Outdoors Act , which secures funding to protect many U.S.  parks  and recreation areas. Now all the bill needs is President Trump’s signature. The important environmental bill promises permanent funding for the  Land Water Conservation Fund  (LWCF). While most people aren’t familiar with the fund, it has been working behind the scenes since 1964, using oil and gas industry revenue to pay for national, local and state parks and federal historic sites. Related: The importance of greenways during a pandemic The bill reads, “There shall be deposited into the fund an amount equal to 50% of all federal revenues from the development of oil, gas, coal , or alternative or renewable energy on federal lands and waters.” The fund must be used for priority deferred maintenance projects administered by the National Park Service, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education. While the LWCF has existed for over 50 years, non-conservation projects often siphoned off its funds. In 2020, the fund only received $495 million out of the $900 million put into its account — far below the budget needed to maintain  trails  and park facilities. Groups around the country rejoice over this win. “While not costing taxpayers a penny as the funding comes from royalties collected through offshore oil and gas drilling , LWCF has supported over 42,000 parks and recreation projects across the country, secured more than 100 national battlefields and protected more than 2.2 million acres of national parks,” Maite Arce, President and CEO of the  Hispanic Access Foundation , said in a statement. “In fact the majority of Americans live only minutes from an LWCF site. Americans of all stripes reap the benefits of these protected places, which help support local businesses and provide outdoor access and opportunities for hunters, fishermen, climbers,  hikers , bikers, and campers across America.” In light of the pandemic hitting the economy hard and keeping people cooped up to the point of stir craziness, the bill’s passage seems especially timely. A recent poll by the National Recreation and Park Association found that 83% of U.S. adults said that access to open spaces, local parks and trails is essential for their mental and physical well-being during these times. + GlobeNewswire Image via Pexels

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Scientists discover algae species that may affect coral reefs

July 17, 2020 by  
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A new species of alga found in Hawaii is emerging as a potential threat to coral reefs. Researchers from the University of Hawaii conducted a study establishing that the red algae have been growing on the island for several years now. First spotted in 2016, the species has spread rapidly throughout the island. Published in the journal  PLOS ONE , the study revealed that a thick layer of red algae has been spreading in Hawaii . A group of scientists first spotted the species during a mission to monitor ocean life in 2016. At the time, only small patches of red algae existed on the island. When the scientists returned to the same spot four years later, they found that the algae had grown into a thick layer. According to the researchers, mat-like layers of algae cover vast groups of corals in the island’s Pearl and Hermes Atoll. This development proves especially concerning given how coral reefs usually thrive in such remote areas. The presence of this new species could threaten coral reefs on the island. Coral reefs need sunlight and space to survive, both of which are hampered by the layers of algae. According to Dr. Alison Sherwood, the study’s lead researcher, this algae issue is unprecedented. “Something like this has never been seen in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands before. This is extremely alarming to see an alga like this come in and take over so quickly and have these impacts,” Sherwood said. The scientists who discovered the red alga named it Chondria Tumulosa. Considered a “nuisance species,” Chondria Tumulosa’s rate of spread could endanger marine life . Although the algae’s exact cause is unknown, researchers list unusual water chemistry and the absence of natural algae consumers as potential factors. Researchers are now working to determine Chondria Tumulosa’s characteristics and its possible effects on marine life. + PLOS ONE Via NY Times Image via Ed Bierman

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Scientists discover algae species that may affect coral reefs

Virtually visit these 10 farm sanctuaries on July 25

July 9, 2020 by  
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On July 25, animal lovers are invited to participate in a virtual animal sanctuary tour that will let them peek into 10 American sanctuaries. The  Great Farm Sanctuary Tour , organized by Lancaster Farm Sanctuary in Pennsylvania, will raise money to help these nonprofits continue caring for their rescued  animals . The Northeast, Midwest,  California , Colorado, Texas and Hawaii will be represented on the virtual tour. This event will run from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and costs $25. Each sanctuary gets a 20-minute slot to introduce who they are and what they do. Related: Jon & Tracey Stewart’s animal rescue in New Jersey to join the Farm Sanctuary family “Being the only  vegan sanctuary in our region, it is so great to be able to connect with other wonderful organizations that hold the same overarching mission,” Brittany Kane of Foreverland Farm Sanctuary in Amelia, Ohio, told VegNews. “FLF is a new, small sanctuary and we are ecstatic to be able share our work with folks nationwide. We’re looking forward to meeting everyone on our tour, and learning about the great work being done all over for the animals.” Farm animal sanctuaries rescue animals from factory farms. Animal lovers — especially those from urban areas — thrill at the chance to rub a pig’s belly or look a cow in the eye. Many vegans like to visit farm sanctuaries when they travel. Of course, the  coronavirus  pandemic has taken a huge bite out of travel and axed millions of jobs. For nonprofits like animal sanctuaries, money is even tighter than usual. To support these sanctuaries, buy your ticket and tune in on July 25. Perhaps you’ll virtually meet Grandpa Pancakes, a 30-something-year-old horse in Woodstown,  New Jersey ‘s Rancho Relaxo that was saved from the slaughterhouse. Or Yoru, an orphaned Polynesian piglet found scrounging for scrap by a hiking trail, who now resides at the Aloha Animal Sanctuary, Oahu’s first nonprofit sanctuary for farmed animals. The Great Farm Sanctuary Tour is matching donations given to these farm sanctuaries via this event up to $1,000–5,000, depending on ticket sales and sponsorships. + Lancaster Farms Sanctuary Via Veg News Images via Pexels

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Virtually visit these 10 farm sanctuaries on July 25

Two young architects travel the Arctic in a repurposed lifeboat

July 9, 2020 by  
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A tale of determination, exploration and sustainability, architects Guylee Simmonds and David Schnabel are taking the trip of a lifetime on a repurposed, retired Arctic lifeboat. Along with their seafaring dog, Shackleton the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, these two architects have given a second life to a decommissioned lifeboat that served in the Western Isles of Scotland. While the boat was originally designed to carry 100 people in survival situations, Simmonds and Schnabel set out to repurpose and rebuild it into a self-sustaining expedition vessel. The goal was to complete the project in a little over one year, just in time to take a 3,000 mile adventure from the U.K. to the Norwegian Arctic. Related: A solar-powered houseboat designed for the water-loving adventurer The architects renamed the boat Stødig, a Norwegian word meaning “sound and steadfast.” As the name suggests, the lifeboat’s reliable and functional design was a large inspiration for its newly adapted role as a self-sustaining and minimalist expedition vessel. The lifeboat , which was on its way to being scrapped if it had found no buyer, was bought in February 2018, and the voyage began in May 2019. The team departed from the southern British port of Newhaven before traveling along the Belgian and Dutch coast, sailing through the Kiel canal in Germany and then venturing into the Baltic Sea. The scenic route took them up the Danish and Swedish coasts past Copenhagen and Gothenburg, past Norway and up to Bergen. All along the way, Simmonds, Schnabel and Shackleton took in some of the best views the world has to offer, from showstopping sunsets and the dreamy Northern Lights to hushed evergreen forests and magnificent, snow-covered mountain landscapes. Stødig was first gutted to provide the architects with a blank canvas, on which they could bring their ideas to life. The boat redesign incorporates two forward cabins, a dining area, kitchen, a bathroom with a composting toilet, bunk beds for guests and a stern cockpit. There are solar panels on the roof, a wood-burning stove and small wind turbines incorporated for additional sustainability. It is made of fiberglass, measuring 11 meters long and 3.5 meters wide. An important feature for exploration, a number of large, curved windows were installed to provide breathtaking panoramic views and bring in as much light as possible. + Stødig Arctic Lifeboat Images via Guylee Simmonds and David Schnabel

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PG&E pleads guilty to manslaughter in 2018 wildfire deaths

June 18, 2020 by  
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Utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) pled guilty this week to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of unlawful fire starting, admitting its faulty power lines began a horrendous 2018  wildfire . Dubbed the Camp Fire, the blaze in question started in Butte County,  California  on November 8, 2018. The fire killed at least 84 people, destroyed about 18,000 buildings and devastated the town of Paradise, making it California’s most destructive wildfire ever. Related: Climate change heightens California’s drought and wildfire risks Butte County Superior Court Judge Michael Deems read out the names of people who’d died in the fire one by one as their photos flashed on a screen. After each charge, PG&E CEO and President Bill Johnson said, “Guilty, your honor.” “Our equipment started that fire,” Johnson admitted. A year-long investigation led by Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey determined that PG&E’s outdated equipment caused the 2018 fire. The brutal grand jury report concluded the  utility  company ignored repeated warnings about old, poorly maintained power lines that failed to adhere to state regulations, showing a “callous disregard” for people’s lives and property. PG&E’s plea is part of an agreement with Butte County prosecutors to avoid further criminal proceedings against the utility company. The plea deal includes pledging billions to improve safety and assist Camp Fire victims and accepting closer oversight. The company will pay $3.5 million in fines and a half million in costs. PG&E will also put $15 million towards water for residents, as the Camp Fire destroyed Miocene Canal, one of the area’s vital water sources. “I am here today on behalf of the 23,000 men and women of PG&E, to accept responsibility for the fire here that took so many lives and changed these communities forever,” Johnson said in a written statement. In January 2019, wildfires drove PG&E to file for bankruptcy. The utility has paid out tens of billions in victim settlements and lost billions more in damaged equipment during 2015, 2017 and 2018 wildfires. PG&E has agreed to skip paying out shareholder dividends for three years, which will save about $4 billion. Ramsey said this is the first time any major utility has been charged with homicide stemming from a reckless fire. Still, he is not satisfied with the fine and thinks PG&E should pay much more for the  deaths  and damage that Camp Fire caused. + NPR Image via Pexels

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New technology could harness energy from trees

June 17, 2020 by  
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A new technology that draws power from trees brings a new dimension to the sustainable energy conversation. New research shows that drawing energy from trees could help power future cities. By converting tree movements into energy, anemokinetics technology taps into the power available in nature. For a long time, the world has struggled to come up with sustainable energy sources. The high demand for energy compared to its limited sources has proved a tough puzzle to solve. Anemokinetics technology could be the answer to this ongoing clean energy issue. The concept of anemokinetics is based on the first law of thermodynamics, which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. In other words, the energy we use is continuously available in nature in various forms. The problem is converting available energy from one form to another for specific purposes. According to a project published on  Behance , anemokinetics allows scientists to harness energy from trees via the oscillation of branches. The study first investigated tree branches’ range of movement. Research found that tree branch movements fluctuate depending on wind speed, tree height and tree type. Tree branch displacement occurs at a rate of between one and 25 cm every moment. Although further studies are still underway to determine the best way to tap this energy, scientists have already created a prototype electric circuit and conducted field testing. Research found that each branch movement cycle “generates a charge equal to 3.6 volts with a current of 0.1 amperes and a duration of 200 milliseconds.” These figures could spell a bright future for anemokinetics. The project also proposes using the generated energy for off-grid navigation. Although the study still needs investment and further research , the preliminary findings are promising. Anemokinetics technology has plenty of possible applications, including powering sensors to create an Internet of Forest. + Behance Images via Alexander Altenkov

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Britain hits a new record going two months coal-free

June 11, 2020 by  
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For the first time in over a hundred years, Britain has gone for a record two months without using coal energy. This new milestone is due in part to the coronavirus pandemic and investment in renewable energy. A decade ago, almost half of the country’s energy was coal -based. Britain is changing this narrative by adopting renewable sources of energy. Midnight on June 10 marked two straight months since the country last used coal energy. Due to the coronavirus lockdown, power demand in the entire country went down. As a result, Britain closed the only four remaining coal power plants. According to a BBC publication, 40% of Britain’s power supply was coal-based just 10 years ago. However, a drastic shift to renewable energy has allowed for this coal-free energy record. In ten years, Britain has transformed from wind and solar generating only 3% of the country’s electricity to having renewables account for 37% of the total energy supplied. Britain has stepped up to become home to the largest offshore wind industry in the world. Drax, Britain’s biggest power plant, has been gradually shifting to renewable energy. According to Will Gardiner, CEO of Drax, the company has put in place a plan that fully eliminates coal power. “We here at Drax decided that coal was no longer the future,” said Gardiner. Britain’s green energy achievements may give hope to any country striving to eliminate coal. Though there are still many steps left for ending coal energy usage worldwide, Gardiner expects renewable energy to overtake fossil fuels in 2020. This prediction may not be far off, according to Dr. Simon Evans of Carbon Brief. “So far this year renewables have generated more electricity than fossil fuels and that’s never happened before,” said Evans. Given that coronavirus has slowed down global energy consumption, now may be the time for each nation to make progress towards cleaner energy. Via BBC News Images via Pexels

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Britain hits a new record going two months coal-free

Naturally ventilated home in Thailand has a lush indoor garden

June 11, 2020 by  
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Designed by Studio Locomotive, this two-story home in Phuket, Thailand combines contemporary and biophilic design. The young owner wanted to build a debt-free, low-maintenance home despite limited financial resources. The result is the Prim House. The home was built to highlight basic needs on a plot of land about 1,000 square feet in size. While from the outside, the home may look like other common commercial buildings in the surrounding area, the Prim House enjoys plenty of natural light , cross-breezes and open-plan living spaces. Natural ventilation is supported by large openings, a vertical air well and skylights . This design eases maintenance and cost-of-living burdens, such as heating and cooling utilities, giving the homeowner more time and money to pursue other things. Related: Off-grid bamboo bungalow embraces nature in Thailand Cross-ventilation is primarily achieved through a series of prefabricated air vents built into the home’s rear wall and large window openings in the front. Central skylights encourage vertical ventilation while also releasing daylight into the interior. These skylights are essential in maintaining the sunken indoor garden located in the middle of the first floor of Prim House. The home’s staircase and catwalk, located just next to the garden, are made of perforated metal to allow even more sunlight to shine through the living spaces. A tall, exposed steel structural beam connects the first and second floors with ornamental climbing foliage. Prim House has a small kitchen with wooden accents and a patio just outside of the front door. There are two bedrooms and one bathroom, with a ventilating skylight passing over the bathroom ceiling to help keep the room dry and free from odors. Studio Locomotive kept parts of the building and fixtures exposed and utilized materials such as polished concrete and raw steel to stay as sustainable and minimalist as possible. + Studio Locomotive Images via Studio Locomotive

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Naturally ventilated home in Thailand has a lush indoor garden

Air pollution climbing back to pre-pandemic levels

June 5, 2020 by  
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Last month, news media around the world heralded cleaner skies as a byproduct of the pandemic-induced quarantines. Alas, as lockdowns are lifted, air pollution is climbing back to pre-COVID levels in  China . Several European countries may soon follow suit. Concentrations of fine particles and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are back to where they were a year ago, according to data from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (Crea). In early March, when China was suffering the worst of the  pandemic , the particle count was down by 34%, while nitrogen dioxide levels had fallen by 38%. Related: Air pollution could make COVID-19 more dangerous “The rapid rebound in air pollution and coal consumption levels across China is an early warning of what a smokestack industry-led rebound could look like,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, Crea’s lead analyst, in an article from  The Guardian . “Highly polluting industries have been faster to recover from the crisis than the rest of the economy. It is essential for policymakers to prioritise clean energy.” Wuhan, the pandemic’s ground zero, is still experiencing lower than usual nitrogen dioxide levels — 14% lower than last year. However, Shanghai’s NO2 level has soared to 9% higher than in 2019. Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultancy group, expects that the second quarter of 2020 will see China’s  oil  demand recover nearly to its normal level. European cities are still enjoying significant dips in air  pollution . The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (Cams) shows that 42 of the 50 European cities it tracks had below-average NO2 levels in March. This pollutant, which is largely produced by diesel vehicles, dropped by 30% in Paris and London during the pandemic. How fast and how much European air pollution will rebound depends on the decisions of citizens, companies and government officials. “We do not know how people’s behaviour will change, for example avoiding public transport and therefore relying more on their own cars, or continuing to work from home,” Vincent-Henri Peuch, the director of Cams, told  The Guardian . Environmentalists hope that people will choose to  walk  and cycle more and drive their cars less. + The Guardian Images via Pexels

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