Episode 135: Changing the narrative on consumption, Apple’s gang of four

August 10, 2018 by  
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In this episode, how the corporate world can get down to work on plastics, the science of behavioral economics, and how Akamai, Etsy and Swiss Re are benefiting from Apple’s renewable energy procurement strategy.

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Episode 135: Changing the narrative on consumption, Apple’s gang of four

A new study reveals that urban green spaces may be an antidote to depression

July 23, 2018 by  
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A recent study shows that symptoms of depression can be reduced for people who have access to green spaces. Researchers in Philadelphia transformed vacant lots in the city into green spaces and found that adults living near these newly planted areas reported decreased feelings of depression, with the biggest impact occurring in low-income neighborhoods. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine teamed up with members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to transform and observe 541 randomly selected vacant lots in Philadelphia. Eugenia South, assistant professor and co-author of the study , said Philadelphia’s littered lots were an ideal environment to set-up their groundwork. “There’s probably 40,000 of them in the city” she told NPR , “but they’re concentrated in certain sections of the city, and those areas tend to be in poorer neighborhoods.” According to the study, lower socioeconomic conditions have already been proven to distress mental health states. Related: Virtual reality helps scientists plot the ideal urban green space The researchers separated the lots into three groups: a control group of lots where nothing was altered, a set of lots that was cleaned up of litter, and a group of lots where everything, including existing vegetation, was removed and replanted with new trees and grass. “We found a significant reduction in the amount of people who were feeling depressed ” South said. Her team used a psychological distress scale to ask people how they felt, including senses of hopelessness, restlessness and worthlessness, as well as measuring heart rates, a leading indicator of stress, of residents walking past the lots. Low-income neighborhoods showed as high as a 27.5 percent reduction in depression rates. South said, “In the areas that had been greened, I found that people had reduced heart rates when they walked past those spaces.” While previous research has cross-studied the beneficial effects of green spaces on mental health, experts, such as Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch from the University of California, Berkeley, are regarding this experiment as “innovative.” Morello-Frosch said that previous studies were observational in nature and failed to provide concrete statistical results as this study has offered. Morello-Frosch, who was not involved with the analysis, said, “To my knowledge, this is the first intervention to test — like you would in a drug trial — by randomly alleviating a treatment to see what you see.” Parallel research has identified indicators of crime-reduction and increased community interaction, showing that green spaces are a low-cost answer to improving many facets of a community’s well-being, now including mental health. +  JAMA Network Open Via NPR Before and After images via Eugenia South and Bernadette Hohl/JAMA Network Open

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A new study reveals that urban green spaces may be an antidote to depression

Air pollution levels in national parks rival those of major US cities

July 23, 2018 by  
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Bad news for national park lovers: a new study published in Science Advances  has found that many national parks have levels of of air pollution on par with major US cities. In parks such as Sequoia, Acadia, and Joshua tree, toxic ozone levels breaching the safe limit set by the EPA rivaled those found in cities such as New York and Los Angeles, which has the worst air quality rating of cities in the United States. While the number of dangerous pollution days has fallen for both cities and parks since the 1990 enactment of the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s Regional Haze Rule of 1999, experts are pressing for more regulation after this week’s findings. National parks see an 8% decline in visitor numbers, on average, in months recording two to three days of bad air quality. The statistics suggest that many of the parks’ guests choose to come not only for the sights, but for their health as well. And, while some have criticized Regional Haze Rule regulations, study co-author Ivan Rudik disagrees. An assistant professor at Cornell University, Rudik stated that “some of the arguments that people are making against the Regional Haze Rule are that the benefits are basically zero, that these visibility rules don’t matter much or maybe the health improvements are overstated. But if you look at what people actually do, they clearly do care.” Related: UN creates a new global climate change coalition Recent years have seen record-breaking numbers of visitors to national parks, yet another reason to reevaluate government standards when it comes to air pollution. Speaking to The Associated Press, Rudik remarked that “even though the national parks are supposed to be icons of a pristine landscape, quite a lot of people are being exposed to ozone levels that could be detrimental to their health.” + Science Advances Via Ecowatch Images via Shutterstock

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Air pollution levels in national parks rival those of major US cities

Migratory barnacle geese threatened by rapidly rising Arctic temperatures

July 20, 2018 by  
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Migrating barnacle geese that lay their eggs in the Arctic zones of northern Russia are becoming confounded by earlier springs in their traditional nesting grounds, according to a study published in Current Biology . The rising temperatures in the Arctic circles caused by global warming are threatening the survival of this species, which travels more than 3,000 km, or 1,800 miles, to reach their nesting territory. The research , released in May 2018, noted that the geese habitually make the month-long journey from parts of northern Germany and the Netherlands based on a biologically coordinated schedule now jeopardized by human activity. Rapid environmental changes have caused the animals to speed up their flight plans. Related: Arctic shipping routes could threaten “unicorns of the sea” Bart Nolet, member of the research team from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and the University of Amsterdam, told NPR , “They actually depart from the wintering areas around the same date regardless of whether it’s early or late spring in the Arctic ,” because they “cannot predict what the weather is or what the season is up there from 3,000 kilometers distance.” This causes the geese to speed up their inherent migration pattern mid-flight, after they realize that the temperature is too warm. They complete the arduous expedition in only a week, leaving them exhausted. Originally, the birds used to arrive and lay their eggs just as the winter snow melted. By the time their goslings hatched, plants began to grow, resulting in a “food peak” for the animals. Now, both adult and baby barnacle geese must bear the hardships of malnourishment. Despite rushing their migration and flying “nearly nonstop from the wintering areas to their breeding grounds,” according to Nolet, the 10 days needed after migration to find food and recover from exhaustion still puts the birds behind schedule. The geese cannot lay their eggs straightaway. Instead, after their expedited journey, they must rest and forage for food to ensure their own survival and the vitality of their offspring — ultimately the determining factor in the continuance of their species. + Current Biology Via NPR Images via Gennady Alexandrov

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Coral forests thrive near Sicilys underwater volcanoes

July 10, 2018 by  
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Nearly one kilometer below the water surface near Sicily, a rare ecosystem of corals, sponges and wildlife is thriving. A recent study from conservation agency Oceana discovered healthy and active coral forests near underwater volcanoes just north of Sicily. These coral forests were previously undiscovered by humans but have not been spared from their impact via pollution. As an under-researched area, scientists wanted to learn more about the wildlife near the Aeolians Islands north of Sicily, the location of several underwater volcanoes . Exploring around a kilometer under the surface, the team found coral forests rich with endangered species. At the shallowest levels, a research robot found red algae beds that support both plants and sea animals in the area. Sea fans and horse mackerel were abundant near the surface. At intermediate depths, sharks laid eggs in beds of black coral, complemented with beds of red coral and yellow tree coral. Both colored corals are considered threatened species in the Mediterranean Sea . Related: Red List expands to 26,000 endangered species The most exciting discoveries were found at the bottom of the ocean floor. As far down as 981 meters, researchers found naturally growing bamboo corals on the endangered species list , as well as sea squirts and carnivorous sea sponges that were not known to live in the area. The deep dive also revealed two species never before seen in the area: the skinny sea star  Zoroaster fulgens and a goby fish originally found near the Adriatic Sea. Unfortunately, this unique environment isn’t immune to human damage. The diving robot discovered extensive evidence of fishing pollution , including abandoned traps, nets and fishing lines. Some of those contributed to the death of the wildlife, including turtles and corals. Other discarded waste found includes single-use plastic flatware, glass and even tires. “We have found tens of features that are internationally protected in the Mediterranean, from impressive coralligenous beds to loggerhead turtles and many species of corals and molluscs,” Ricardo Aguilar, senior research director for Oceania, said in a statement. “However, we also found widespread impacts of human activity, even in the farthest and deepest areas, and it is vital that we stop harming marine life if we are to preserve the uniqueness of this part of the Tyrrhenian Sea.” The discoveries will help scientists develop a plan to protect the unique ecosystem from future damage. Oceana’s expedition is part of bigger research expedition with the Blue Marine Foundation to better understand the Aeolians Islands and their  environment . + Oceana Images via  © Oceana

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Coral forests thrive near Sicilys underwater volcanoes

Starbucks ditches plastic straws for the environment

July 10, 2018 by  
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Coffee drinkers around the world can soon sip their daily latte in peace, knowing it is getting better for the environment. Starbucks has announced it will eliminate single-use plastic straws from more than 28,000 company-owned and -licensed stores by 2020. The company will replace them with compostable straws (for blended drinks) and recyclable, strawless lids. Plastic pollution from single-use products is a major concern. The United Nations’ Environment Program estimates as many as eight million tons of disposable plastic products end up in the oceans each year, where it ultimately harms aquatic ecosystems. Related: This British café is serving to-go coffee in ceramic mugs to combat waste To reduce its overall reliance on plastics, the coffee giant is introducing strawless lids for the majority of its beverages — including cold coffee drinks. For its blended offerings, the company will move to paper or compostable plastic straws. The new lids were approved for global distribution after testing in 8,000 North American stores, as well as select Asian countries. Starbucks’ home stores in Seattle and Vancouver will be the first to fully transition to the lids starting in the second half of 2018, followed by transitioning in Europe. Its goal is to completely remove the single-use plastic items over the next two years. “For our partners and customers, this is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee ,” Kevin Johnson, Starbucks president and CEO, said in a statement,“served to our customers in more sustainable ways.” The change to drinkable lids and straws made out of paper or biodegradable plastic is part of a larger goal set for the company. Starbucks is also expanding a paper cup surcharge to 950 stores in the United Kingdom by the end of July 2018 to discourage their use, while offering discounts to those who bring in reusable cups . In addition, the company wants to include 20 percent post-consumer recycled fiber in its cups by 2022 and have achieved 99 percent ethical sourcing of its coffee. However, government reports suggest the coffee industry has a long way to go before going completely green. The British parliament discovered the coffee industry adds 2.5 billion disposable cups to the nation’s landfills annually. + Starbucks

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Trading specimens for science? Theres a website for that

July 2, 2018 by  
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Good news for science and for the Earth: scientists looking for rare research specimens, such as the smoothtooth blacktip shark or Antarctic skate, now have a website to request or trade biological odds and ends. Built by students and backed by startup accelerators, Otlet.io allows researchers to list their surplus research samples and request those currently not available through other means. The site has already been acknowledged as a major win for conservation . The website is a product born of frustration: founders Lauren Meyer and Madi Green, two PhD students in Australia and Tasmania, were having trouble finding specimens to complete projects. After completing an undergraduate honors thesis with limited data, Meyer discovered that a colleague held several tiger shark livers – which she needed to present a conclusive report. To improve communications and cooperation between researchers, Meyer and Green started SharkShare.com, which ultimately evolved to Otlet. Related: 500-mile-long shark highway could become a protected wildlife corridor Universities hail the project as a crucial step forward for conservation. Some species listed on Otlet today are either Red List-threatened or considered data deficient by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – and, by sharing existing resources, scientists can continue their current research without further threatening any species. To begin the specimen swapping process, scientists simply create an account on Otlet and share what they have or what they need. When a match occurs, individuals can reach out to one another to coordinate exchanges and determine shipping responsibility. The community is only open to active researchers: before requesting or listing anything, users must provide their academic status, organization affiliation and details on their specific field of study. Even though the website is relatively new, it’s already created major waves across the international science community: there are more than 10,000 listings on Otlet representing 135 distinct species from 47 nations. Recently added to the specimen database are flapnose ray fins from the Red Sea, livers from South Australian thresher sharks and Pacific spookfish muscles from the subantarctic Pacific Ocean . All are available for exchange with other scientists. Otlet receives support from Australia’s St. George Bank and the New South Wales Government, startup incubator BlueChilli and the Save Our Seas foundation. + Otlet Via  Earther Images via Wikimedia Commons

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Trading specimens for science? Theres a website for that

Congo could open its national parks to oil drilling

July 2, 2018 by  
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Two national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo could soon face pollution threats and habitat destruction if oil drilling is given the green light. The national government announced on Friday, June 29, 2018 that it is deciding on whether to permit oil wells in parts of the Salonga and Virunga National Parks, which are both home to rare and endangered wildlife. Under the plan put forward by the Congolese government, over one-fifth of Virunga National Park could open for oil exploration. Virunga is home to approximately half of the world’s mountain gorillas . Salonga National Park occupies more than 13,000 square miles of the Congo Basin , the second largest rainforest in the world. The dense jungles are home to bonobos, along with the African golden cat, forest buffalos and pangolins. The government did not elaborate on how much of Salonga could be available for oil drilling. In statements to the press, the government expressed its rights to allow oil well construction in both parks, while claiming it would be mindful of wildlife protection in both areas. Related: New Ebola outbreak strikes the Democratic Republic of the Congo These plans come under heavy criticism from inter-governmental organizations and environmental watchdog groups, whom already denounced previous plans. As World Heritage Sites , UNESCO calls drilling and illegal resource extraction continuing threats to conservation in both the Salonga and Virunga . Oil drilling is not the only issue facing the wildlife in these parks. Poaching and kidnapping remains a major concern in both preserves. After two British tourists were held hostage and a park ranger was killed in the first five months of 2018, government officials have closed Virunga through 2019. Opening the parks to drilling comes as the national government prepares for another wave of sanctions. Before the announcement, the United Nations Security Council upheld an asset freeze and travel ban against the nation. Although British oil and gas exploration firm Soco International previously tested the Virunga area for viability, its license is no longer valid. No other petroleum companies have announced plans to drill in either of the two parks. Via  Reuters  and  BBC Images via Fanny Schertzer ( 1 , 2 )

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Sea stars overcome melting disease through rapid evolution

June 27, 2018 by  
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Five years ago, millions of sea stars off the west coast of North America were killed by a mysterious virus that caused the animals to lose limbs and liquefy, with several species under serious threat of extinction. Following the peak of the epidemic, described as “one of the largest marine mass mortality events on record,” scientists noticed that young ochre stars, among the species most impacted by the virus, were surviving at much higher rates. Today, the starfish have seemed to miraculously recover, and researchers may have the explanation for their salvation. A new study suggests that the animals possibly developed a genetic resistance to the still-puzzling densovirus, a threat that had been lurking in the region for decades but could have been fully activated by climate change . About 80 percent of ochre sea stars died as a result of the mysterious virus , which was disturbing for its ecological consequences and the manner with which it killed. “The sick ones tend to just fall apart in front of your eyes,” biologist Jeff Marliave told KUOW in 2013 . “An arm will actually break off and crawl away.” Scientists now believe that the massive die-off accelerated the process of natural selection. “When you’ve removed a whole bunch of them, you’ve shifted the whole genetic diversity of that population,” researcher Chris Mah told the Guardian . “In other words, to put it in human terms, if you wiped out a huge chunk of the human species, you would change the genetic makeup of humans.” Related: Underwater robots seek and kill invasive starfish Those that survived the wasting syndrome had the resistant gene, which they then passed onto their offspring. While the sea stars may have avoided a terminal fate this time, such epidemics are expected to occur with greater frequency in the future. “The concern is that marine disease, extreme environmental events and the frequency of those are on the rise,” study lead author Lauren Schiebelhut told the Guardian . “If we have too many extreme events in a row, maybe that becomes more challenging for species to respond to.” Via The Guardian Images via Jerry Kirkhart , Oregon State University and David O.

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Sea stars overcome melting disease through rapid evolution

Giant manta ray nursery discovered in Gulf of Mexico

June 22, 2018 by  
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Researchers have identified the first recognized giant manta ray nursery in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico , about 70 miles offshore from Galveston, Texas . Graduate student and executive director of  Manta Trust Josh Stewart first made this discovery while studying adult mantas in the area for the first time. “I was there trying to get a genetic sample from a full grown manta, and that’s when I saw it. It was a juvenile male manta, which is a very rare,” Stewart told NPR . After expressing his excitement to local researchers, he was informed that young manta sightings were quite common there. He said, “And that’s when I knew that this was a really special, unique place.” The local researchers at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration had misidentified the young manta rays as another species, neglecting to recognize the importance of this place until the arrival of an outside perspective. Typically, adult manta rays live in deep tropical and subtropical waters, making the study of these majestic sea creatures quite difficult. Young manta rays are almost never seen with adults. Related: Microplastic pollution poses particular threat to filter-feeding rays, sharks and whales “The juvenile life stage for oceanic mantas has been a bit of a black box for us, since we’re so rarely able to observe them,” Stewart explained. “We don’t know much about their movements, their feeding behavior and how that compares to the adults. Now we have a pool of juveniles that we can study.” The recognition of the nursery will ensure that these young mantas, now an endangered species in the U.S., are protected while also providing a road map for the protection of juvenile habitats around the world. “This research backs up the need for protection of other critical habitat, especially since manta rays have recently been designated as threatened species,” study co-author Michelle Johnston told the Herald Sun . “Threatened species need a safe space to grow up and thrive and live.” + Scripps Institution of Oceanography Via NPR and  The Herald Sun Images via G.P. Schmahl / FGBNMS

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Giant manta ray nursery discovered in Gulf of Mexico

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