There’s another grim climate report on oceans — but there’s still time to act

September 26, 2019 by  
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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere

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There’s another grim climate report on oceans — but there’s still time to act

Farming plays key role in UN climate push on land restoration

September 26, 2019 by  
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“The whole land-climate system” needs indigenous peoples, sustainable agriculture and reforestation to cut emissions.

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Pacific heat wave threatens coral reefs in Hawaii and other regions

September 25, 2019 by  
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Researchers predict a major marine heat wave in the Pacific Ocean could prove disastrous to the fragile coral reefs along Hawaii’s Papa Bay and similar coastlines. Warmer water conditions often trigger coral bleaching, a condition that leaves coral reefs susceptible to mortality. Coral reefs play a very significant environmental and ecological role. As a habitat, for instance, they support many species in the marine environment. Coral reefs likewise serve as a protective barrier, buffering shorelines against deleterious wave action, especially during typhoon season, to minimize coastal damage and to prevent erosion. Healthy reefs contribute to local economies, particularly through tourism as well as commercial and recreational fishing. Related: ‘The Blob’ returns — marine heatwave settles over Pacific Unfortunately, when water is too warm, coral become stressed. They consequently expel the algae , or zooxanthellae, that live in their tissues. In doing so, coral turn white, a condition known as bleaching. Prolonged loss of the algae eventually leads to the coral’s demise. When coral reefs are compromised, the loss cascades, often causing far-reaching ecosystem repercussions. Back in 2015, a prominent marine heat wave eliminated half of the Papa Bay coastline’s coral reefs that surround Hawaii’s Big Island. This year, marine scientists associated with NOAA similarly predict that another round of very warm water will occur in the region once again. “In 2015, we hit temperatures that we’ve never recorded ever in Hawaii ,” NOAA oceanographer Jamison Gove said. “What is really important — or alarming, probably more appropriately — about this event is that we’ve been tracking above where we were this time in 2015.” Earlier this September, NOAA researchers warned of the Blob’s return. The Blob — the moniker coined by Washington state climatologist Nick Bond during the 2015 heat wave — describes the vast expanse of unusually warm water that occurred in the Pacific Ocean from 2014 to 2016. It adversely impacted coral reefs, causing global bleaching and diminished coastal fisheries’ yields throughout the Pacific. To date, this year’s Blob is reportedly the second-largest marine heat wave ever recorded in the past 40 years, just behind the 2014 – 2016 Blob. As a result, forecasts anticipate an even warmer October, which could critically undermine the coral that are still recovering from the first Blob. “Temperatures have been warm for quite a long time,” Gove continued.  “It’s not just how hot it is — it’s how long those ocean temperatures stay warm.” While scientists are not yet able to pinpoint the exact causes for ocean temperatures warming, it is believed human-influenced climate change is a salient factor. Restoration efforts are in the works. Research suggests coral can be conditioned to withstand future onslaught of warmer water. Both scientists and coral hobbyists are on a mission to breed “super corals” resilient enough to avoid bleaching. It is hoped the introduction of these “super corals” into the environment will fortify reefs to better evolve amidst global warming conditions. Via Associated Press Images via Terri Stewart and NOAA

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Honda makes largest renewable energy purchase of any automaker

September 25, 2019 by  
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Multinational auto manufacturer Honda Motor Company, headquartered in Tokyo, recently made the largest renewable clean energy purchase by any car maker. The electricity will be utilized to offset emissions from its United States factories, thus enabling Honda to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent in its North American manufacturing plants. With widespread public debate and mounting regulatory pressures, automakers have no choice but to shift their business models to address the carbon dioxide reduction challenge. It is no wonder then that a growing number of automobile companies are turning to renewables, like wind and solar, to achieve sustainable returns. Related: Beautiful, solar-powered EV charging stations promise to charge a vehicle in 15 minutes According to Honda, it currently obtains about 21 percent of its North American operations’ power from low- or zero-emission power sources.  But it hopes to improve upon that, thanks to clinching the car industry’s largest renewable energy purchase. Honda’s new clean energy deal involves the purchase of wind power from an Oklahoma wind farm as well as sourcing energy from a Texas solar farm. Projections show that, with this clean energy purchase, Honda can annually offset 800,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s equal to “100,000 U.S. households’ worth of CO2-emissions from household energy usage,” as described in Honda’s press release. Honda revealed, “Two Virtual Power Purchase Agreements (VPPAs) will secure 320 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar power totaling over 1 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable electricity annually.” How do VPPAs operate? Honda explained that VPPAs are “a way for Honda to purchase renewable energy in locations where it is unable to purchase renewables from the local electric utility.” The automaker buys “electricity from a renewable energy supplier, but the clean energy does not go directly to Honda’s facilities; instead, it is sold into the electricity grid where the clean power is generated.” In effect, Honda’s ‘virtual purchase’ of that “renewable energy adds more clean energy into the nation’s grid,” which decreases fossil fuel dependency and any accompanying carbon dioxide emissions. Honda’s VPPA purchase essentially “de-carbonizes” the electricity grid. Analysts say VPPAs are becoming an ever-popular means for large corporations seeking to meet carbon dioxide emission reduction goals.  Tech giants, like Google and Microsoft, for instance, have historically purchased VPPAs as well. Business industry pundits forecast an uptick of VPPA procurements in the next couple of years as renewable energy policy intensifies. Aligned with its revitalized green mission, Honda’s long-term plans go far beyond clean energy purchases, as it continues its commitment to sustainability. The company similarly announced plans to electrify two-thirds of its manufactured vehicular fleet so that they are charged via renewable energy by 2030. + Honda Motor Company Image via Honda Motor Company

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NRPA and Coca-Cola partner to install trash traps to clean Atlanta waterways

September 24, 2019 by  
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The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), which is the leading nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of public parks, recently partnered up with beverage giant Coca-Cola to install trash trap systems in southwest Atlanta. The initiative seeks to keep pollution out of estuaries the Proctor Creek feeds into, such as the Chattahoochee River, and ultimately the ocean. As a 9-mile tributary of the Chattahoochee River, Proctor Creek experiences both stormwater runoff and flooding . The water runoff that moves the trash from storm drains empties into Proctor Creek and is then conveyed into connecting waterways. Related: Coca-Cola to offer Dasani water in aluminum cans and bottles to reduce plastic waste With the catchment system in operation, floating litter can be intercepted in the water runoff. Collected rubbish and debris are then guided into a larger collection container. Both the NRPA and Coca-Cola explained that the trash traps are technologically designed to prevent harm to fish and wildlife , for they do not use nets nor fencing. With a trash-free watershed, the surrounding communities’ water quality will be revitalized. Revitalization will also improve the overall quality of life for the region. Current estimates are that the traps reduce litter by 80 percent so that Proctor Creek is relatively cleaner before entering the Chattahoochee River. Coca-Cola is notorious for its massive plastic footprint. But just last month, in August 2019, Coca-Cola and its rival, PepsiCo Inc., both announced their departures from the leading plastics lobbying group, the Plastic Industry Association. Coca-Cola has deployed its global World Without Waste goal to recycle and reuse the equivalent of all the bottles and cans it sells by 2030. Additionally, Coca-Cola plans to recycle and reuse the bottles collected by the trash traps to transform them into graduation gowns for Atlanta Public Schools’ high school seniors. With this trash trap project, Coca-Cola is commercially maneuvering even closer toward a more environmentally friendly stance, perhaps to dispel its long-standing negative image as the world’s largest plastic polluter. Coca-Cola noted in its news release, “The visibility of the trash traps, educational programming and creation of local green jobs associated with the project will facilitate lasting change and foster environmental, economic and social benefits in the area.” Other stakeholders in the waterway improvement plan include the city of Atlanta, the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Groundwork Atlanta, Park Pride and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some of these partners will analyze data on the trash collection to document trends and detail effectiveness of the project design to inform best practices for optimal litter mitigation strategies. + Coca-Cola + NRPA Image via Shawn Taylor

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NRPA and Coca-Cola partner to install trash traps to clean Atlanta waterways

Algae Lamps are a work of art and natural shade in one

September 19, 2019 by  
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Algae is one of the newest materials to hit the market as a multi-purpose fiber. While it has been hauled out of the ocean, cultivated, dried and processed into myriad products, it typically loses some of its allure in the process — until now. Having spent years figuring out a way to use algae so that it maintains its natural essence, even when molded into a final product, algae has now taken form in the shape of a lamp. Algae Lamps are a product of this effort with lamp shades that are contoured for unique outcomes in shape and style. Each shade is different due to the flexibility of the algae — a quality that took years to master. With a goal in mind, the challenge was finding a way to change the color of the green algae without breaking down the composition of the plant. Additionally, the end product had to be malleable rather than rigid or brittle. Through the course of many trials, a workable formula finally netted the desired result. Related: This biodegradable T-shirt is made from trees and algae Nea Studio, a name that gives the nod to its founder Nina Edwards Anker, began in 2006 with a focus on sustainable design and has maintained that target throughout a host of projects through the years. The Algae Lamp is no exception. Sourcing algae as a natural product replaces the need for petroleum based products like plastic.  More than a sustainable lamp shade option, the Algae Lamp is a work of art, flowing and eye-catching with functionality as a bonus.  Each shade is morphed into a cylinder-like shape to both capture and direct the light within. The internal glow of the bulb creates a warm and calming ambiance in the space. The flared and rippled outer edges mirror the movement of algae in its natural habitat with each shade having its own individual design . A variety of shades grouped together create a chandelier that illuminates a room through the filter of the translucent Algae Shades. With the customizable design, the shades can be used as a single lamp or sconce and the material is adaptable for all types of bases, such as brass or wood. + Nea Studio Images via Nea Studio

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Send your news tips to Inhabitat!

September 19, 2019 by  
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As the climate crisis worsens by the minute, it is more important now than ever to report on the issues that both plague and benefit our world. Inhabitat has long been a steward in reporting the latest environmental happenings, but we need your help in order to further strengthen our reporting and keep readers informed with the latest news. Whether you are an environmental non-profit organization, a company trying to do its part for the planet, a citizen concerned about the Earth’s future, a scientist, a conservationist or anything in between, we strongly encourage you to reach out to us with the latest information related to the environment, sustainability, green technology, etc.  To help us post the most relevant, accurate news, please include any fact sheets, published research, accompanying images and/or contacts for interviews as well as any other related sources and documents for us to review in your tip email. Please note that we will thoroughly review and fact-check each news tip and reach out for more information if we decide to publish a tip. It is important to Inhabitat to fairly and accurately report the news and inform audiences of what is helping and hurting our planet. We are working to report original, exclusive content as much as possible, and your help is extremely valuable. We appreciate every news tip, and we look forward to hearing from you. Please submit tips and relevant, related material for review to tips@inhabitat.com Image via geralt

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Artist submerges 24 portraits underwater to raise attention about our plastic waste

August 29, 2019 by  
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It’s common knowledge that our oceans are suffocating because of our addiction to plastics . But there are some eco-warriors, like Austrian artist Andreas Franke , who are determined to bring more visual attention to the burgeoning issue, all in the name of saving our planet. Franke has recently installed Plastic Ocean, a project that saw 24 portraits of various people being drowned in a sea of plastic, submerged into the depths of the actual sea off the coast of Key West. Although the world seems to be on board with reducing our plastic waste , the action to actually doing it is moving at a snail’s pace. To instigate change, Franke decided to create a series of portraits that depict various people being drowned by plastic objects. Related: Recycled plastic art installation asserts that water is a human right in D.C. Not only are the images provocative for their message about how our oceans are being converted into massive trash dumps, but the collection also features a series of generations. By using images of tiny babies, toddlers and adults, the message is clear: there is an urgency here that cannot be overlooked if we want to provide a safer world for the next generation. The underwater art exhibition was installed on the wreckage site of the USS Vandenberg off the coast of Key West, where divers from around the world were invited to check out the installation. The exhibition ran until late August. Now, the artworks are being prepared for a land-based exhibit (location to be announced). After four months at sea, the artwork is covered with a unique patina, which was left as-is to give visitors to the upcoming exhibition a small glimpse into the beauty of the ocean. Franke hopes this small detail, along with the installation’s overall message, will inspire people to do their part in helping the cause. + Andreas Franke + Plastic Ocean Gallery Via Matador Network Images via Plastic Ocean Gallery

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Behind the scenes at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center

August 28, 2019 by  
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Gwyneth stands upright, supported by one member of her medical team as another scrapes away what looks like blue cotton candy from the cracks in her shell with a pointed metal tool. The yellow slider is stoic, silently opening her mouth, whether wishing to bite or scream. Gwyneth is a turtle, one who has endured a lot of medical attention at the Georgia Sea Turtle Rescue Center since being hit by a car on Jekyll Island. The impact fractured both her carapace and her plastron — her top and bottom shells. The guide on the behind the scenes tour, AmeriCorps worker Stacia Dwelle, explains that the blue stuff is bioglass and costs $175 for a small jar. It works “like scaffolding for the tissue in the fracture site,” she says. Other treatments are lower tech and lower cost, such as the jug of honey and chunks of honeycomb the staff use for its antimicrobial value. Related: Small cruise line treats the whole world as one ocean While the hospital is called the Sea Turtle Rescue Center, they don’t discriminate here. The fully functioning center cares for any type of injured turtle and also works on other reptiles and birds . Public Awareness and Education The center’s founder, Dr. Terry Norton, grew up in Utah far from sea turtles, but his affection for reptiles grew during his residency in Gainesville, Florida. In the early 2000s, Norton worked on Saint Catherine’s Island, 40 miles north of Jekyll. Part of his wildlife health program was developing a global assessment of sea turtle health. He saw the need for a sea turtle hospital on the Georgia coast and opened the Jekyll Island facility in 2007. Since then, he and his staff have treated more than 3,000 patients and welcome 100,000 visitors annually. Why involve the public in turtle medical care? The center “wanted to raise awareness and educate the public as well,” says Dwelle. Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles swim through waters along Georgia’s 100 mile coastline, all either threatened or endangered . Jekyll Island is prime nesting territory, especially for the Loggerhead sea turtle. Leatherbacks and Green sea turtles occasionally nest here. Kemp’s Ridley and Hawksbill turtles also pass through Georgia waters. This year, center staff identified 198 loggerhead nests on the island, with about 120 eggs in each nest. During July and August, the hatchlings fight their way out of their shells, then pour out of nests on the beach and trek to the sea just before sunrise. Most visitors to the turtle center opt for the $9 ticket, which gets them into an exhibit area with interactive displays. They can peer through a large microscope and learn about trash in the ocean. They can also visit the rehab area, a sultry building full of turtles in tubs or look through a window into the medical treatment room. Behind the Scenes in the Hospital Devoted turtle lovers— and those with a little more cash to spend on their travels— can join one of the other tours the center offers. Depending on the month, visitors may be able to accompany staff to nesting sites at night or in the early morning, and there’s a sea turtle camp for kids. Instead of watching the treatment from behind glass, groups of six can stand right in the treatment room and watch Dr. Norton assess turtles. Visitors can also learn about the nebulization chamber where snakes with fungal infections inhale a mist of medicine . Most of the center’s patients stay two to six months before being released. The staff here sometimes give future turtles a helping hand by transferring wild-laid eggs into an incubator. This is especially true when turtles lay their eggs too close to the road on the causeway that connects Jekyll Island to the mainland. The causeway is “a high, dry place those ladies like to look to build their nests,” says Dwelle. “But unfortunately, who else is out there on the causeway? We are. In our cars.” Human transportation is hard on turtles. While on land, they risk being hit by car but in the sea, boat strikes are a top hazard. The center also participates in other reptile-related projects, such as radio-tracking the island’s Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes. Turtle Gourmets “So our sea turtles might be eating better than us,” says Dwelle serving the turtles mackerel, shrimp and blue crab, which is considerably restaurant -quality seafood. New patients get their food filleted for them but once they’re stronger they get whole seafood and live fiddler crabs just before being released. Staff arrange greens in a PVC pipe with holes cut out, which they sink to the bottom of turtle tubs. This way the patients remember to look for seagrass on the ocean floor when they eventually return to the sea. Each turtle gets a personalized diet, sometimes fortified with special vitamins and calcium. Helping Turtles Many of the hospitalized turtles could easily have escaped injury if humans had been more careful. Keeping your distance from nests ensure that hatchlings stand a better chance at survival. And most importantly, don’t litter. “When you’re on the beach, be careful with fishing lines,” says Mary Van Gundy, a volunteer vet technician at the center. “Make sure you gather them up and throw them away.” She’s amazed by the trash she finds, especially cigarette butts. Slowing down, whether in a boat or a car, will prevent many accidents. Maybe that’s what the stoic Gwyneth is trying to tell me as she silently opens her mouth. Images via Inhabitat

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Are bioplastics better for the environment or a waste of time?

August 21, 2019 by  
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There has been massive pushback against the use of plastics over the past few years, including single-use plastic bans in cities all over the world. Industrial entrepreneurs have responded to these mounting concerns with a new product that seems like the perfect solution– bioplastic. It looks and feels like plastic, but its made from plants, so it’s good for the environment, right? Turns out, the answer is much more complicated and likely just another case of greenwashing . What are bioplastics? Traditional plastic is a petroleum-derived product that is made from fossil fuels. In fact, 8 percent of all oil is used for the production of plastic. Bioplastic, on the other hand, is made at least partly from plant-based materials. There are two subcategories of bioplastics that are important to understand: Bio-based plastics These plastics are entirely or partially made from plant-based materials. Most are made from sugarcane that is processed in industrial ethanol facilities, but some bioplastics use corn and other plant materials. The plant materials are used in a lab to create chemical compounds that are identical to petroleum-based compounds. For example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) can be made from either plant or petroleum products, but the end material is the same and it is not biodegradable. “There are a lot of bioplastics or materials that are called bioplastics that are not biodegradable,” said Constance Ißbrücker, the lead for environmental affairs at European Bioplastics. There are two main types of bioplastic produced: polyactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). PLA is made from plant sugars, while PHA is made from microbes that produce the substance when they are deprived of nutrients. Related: A guide to the different types of plastic Biodegradable plastics Biodegradable plastics are typically plant-based items that can be broken down by microbes within a reasonable time frame. All biodegradable plastics, however, require very specific conditions within an industrial composting facility. Otherwise, these so-called “biodegradable plastics” also function like petroleum-based plastic and remain in the environment for hundreds of years. What are the benefits of bioplastics? Although they aren’t perfect, many environmental and waste experts still believe bioplastics have the potential to reduce our negative impact on the environment. Here are a few of the main benefits of bioplastics: Bioplastics reduce fossil fuel demand Since bioplastics are made from plant-based materials instead of fossil fuels , their rising popularity means less oil extraction specifically for the purpose of producing plastic. Bioplastics are less toxic Despite their chemical similarity, bioplasitcs do not contain bisphenol A (BPA) which is known to be a toxic hormone disrupter. BPA is commonly found in conventional plastics, although it is increasingly avoided. Bioplastics support rural, agrarian economies Oil is concentrated in just a few countries and controlled by major corporations but plants, on the other hand, are everywhere. For this reason, it is believed that bioplastics support a more equitable and distributed economy. Who would you rather give your money to, a wealthy oil executive or a farmer ? Related: How to easily make your own reusable produce bags What are the drawbacks? Bioplastics require monocultures While you might feel better about supporting agriculture instead of the oil execs, there is still a lot of controversy about industrial agriculture and the use of land for plastic production. Currently, only 0.02 percent of agricultural land is used to supply bioplastic factories, but with the rising interest and demand, the percentage of land use is expected to rise. If the bioplastic industry expands into more agricultural land, some worry it will take over land that is needed to feed the world population. In addition to the threat to food security, the spread of monoculture crops like sugar and corn wreck havoc on natural ecosystems. The conversion of land to agriculture causes deforestation, desertification, loss of biodiversity and habitat, and increased pressure on limited water reserves. So these new straws aren’t saving the seas? Many people have seen the photos of sea turtles suffocating from a plastic straw stuck in their nose. In fact, these images were so powerful it further convinced people to ditch straws and opt for the biodegradable plastic straw, which we all thought would surely save the sea turtles without getting soggy in an iced coffee. Unfortunately, all biodegradable plastics can only biodegrade in industrial composting facilities, where temperatures reach a consistent 136 degrees Fahrenheit. And if your town doesn’t have those facilities, these new “green” straws are no better than regular straws in terms of threatening marine life. In other words, they don’t breakdown in the open environment and they don’t break down in the sea. Frederik Wurm , a plastic chemist, believes drinking straws made from PLA are “the perfect example for greenwashing.” They cost the vendor more money and they don’t break down on the beach or in the ocean. Some PHA materials have been found to break down on the seafloor, but the efficacy depends on the environment. Although it only took two weeks to breakdown in the tropics, it took months in colder climates and might never break down in the Arctic. Innovation and investment are imperative Given the surging popularity of bioplastics and biodegradable plastics, there is a need for increased investigation and investment in the industry. The best tool against the overwhelming challenge of climate change is human innovation. New products that aren’t just greenwashing but are actually sustainable are needed and may be possible with demand for more research. “This is a field right now for entrepreneurial investors. There’s no shortage of incredible opportunity for alternatives that are marine degradable, that don’t overtax the land and our food production system,” said Dune Ives , founder of an environmental nonprofit focused on business solutions. Via Undark Images via Flickr , Wikimedia Commons

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