Archaeologist suggests ancient humans helped catalyze the Sahara’s desertification

March 17, 2017 by  
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The Sahara Desert we know, with its rolling sand dunes and hot temperatures, used to be a verdant grassland with lakes. Scientists have traditionally attributed the dramatic change to a wobble in Earth’s orbital axis , but now archaeologist David K. Wright of Seoul National University is suggesting actually, humans may have been to blame. A 10,000-year or so wet period called the African Humid Period brought moisture to northern and eastern Africa. But around 8,000 years ago the moisture balance began to change. Today below the sand-dominated landscape can be found signs of rivers and plants, remnants of a greener history. In an article published in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science , Wright explained humans used to be thought of as passive agents in the end of the African Humid Period. But he thinks humans might actually have been active agents in the change. Related: The Mediterranean will become a desert unless global warming is limited to 1.5°C Wright said, “In East Asia there are long established theories of how Neolithic populations changed the landscape so profoundly that monsoons sopped penetrating so far inland.” He thinks a similar phenomenon could have happened in the Sahara. People growing crops and raising livestock could have changed the environment , exposing soil, and sunlight bouncing from the soil could have warmed the air, influencing atmospheric conditions enough so there wasn’t as much rainfall, which only added to the desertification of the Sahara. As yet, Wright needs more evidence for other scientists to fully get on board with his ideas. He said, “There were lakes everywhere in the Sahara at this time, and they will have the records of the changing vegetation. We need to drill down into these former lake beds to get the vegetation records, look at the archaeology , and see what people were doing there.” If Wright turns out to be right, his research could yield insights into how we can adapt to large scale climate change . Via Phys.org and ScienceAlert Images via Charly W. Karl on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Archaeologist suggests ancient humans helped catalyze the Sahara’s desertification

Trump team claims funding climate change is "a waste of your money"

March 17, 2017 by  
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Predictions that the environment wouldn’t fare well under Donald Trump are already coming true. His budget proposal aims to slash Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding by 31 percent, tossing out climate change programs because as White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said, those are “a waste of your money.” Perhaps Trump’s America First budget proposal shouldn’t come as a surprise: it’s highly militaristic and hard on the arts, the sick, the poor, foreign aid, and of course climate change. Under the Trump budget, pollution cleanup efforts and energy efficiency measures would be shoved to the side. Related: Trump to purge climate change from federal government Over 50 EPA programs could be lost under the Trump budget, including large-scale cleanup efforts for the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes and assistance for Alaskan villages hurting because of climate change. States would be left to pick up the pieces. And so much for Trump’s blustering about jobs – around one in five EPA workers would lose theirs under the so-called America First budget. Mulvaney hearkened back to campaign trail language when he said, “This comes back to the president’s business person view of government , which is if you took over this as a CEO, and you look at this on a spreadsheet and go, ‘Why do we have all of these facilities, why do we have seven when we can do the same job with three, won’t that save money,’ and the answer is yes…You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it. So, I guess the first place that comes to mind will be the Environmental Protection Agency.” He also doubled down on Trump’s view of climate change. “We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mulvaney said. “We consider that to be a waste of your money.” Ultimately Trump’s budget is simply a recommendation; Congress will write and pass a budget. It remains to be seen if they’ll gut the EPA as much as Trump wishes. Via The Guardian Images via Gage Skidmore on Flickr and Eric Vance/USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency on Flickr

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Trump team claims funding climate change is "a waste of your money"

Why this city is waging a war on shamrocks

March 17, 2017 by  
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St. Patrick’s day is here, and with the plastic shamrocks popping up in stores everywhere, it got me thinking about the real plant, which grows everywhere around the world, and is under attack with a vengeance by the city government in San Francisco. Oxalis, Sourgrass , Wood Sorrel , Bermuda Buttercup , Shamrock , and False Shamrock – these are just a few names for a genus of wildly prolific edible plants (aka “weeds”) which grow everywhere around the world. Even if you aren’t familiar with the name of this plant, you’ve likely encountered the clover-like leaves and pretty yellow wildflower of oxalis in a lawn before; it infiltrates grassy areas everywhere, street medians and even sidewalk cracks in cities ranging from New York and Cape Town to Sydney and San Francisco. Children love to eat it and play with it, and most school kids are familiar with “sourgrass”. In January and February, entire hillsides in San Francisco burst in vivid yellow bloom with Oxalis flowers . Whether this is a problem or not depends on who you ask. Many San Francisco residents see the hillsides of bright yellow flowers as a beautiful first sign of spring, whereas others, especially those who espouse a nativist point of view, see this plant as an “invader” that must be stopped at all costs – even when that environmental cost includes dousing entire hillsides in dangerous pesticides such as glyphosate and triclopyr . It’s oxalis season in San Francisco right now, which means that many San Francisco gardeners are waging a war against this prolific little weed in their backyards. It also means it is Garlon season for San Francisco’s Park and Rec Department. Garlon (chemical name Triclopyr ) is a broadleaf pesticide weed killer that is used by San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks department mainly for the purposes of killing oxalis. Very little research has been done on this chemical, but it is known to be toxic to mammals and possibly carcinogenic – specifically correlated with breast tumors in rats . Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup), another popular herbicide for killing oxalis, has been classified by the WHO as a probable carcinogen . In the past few months the city of San Francisco has sprayed Garlon on hillsides in public parks several times to try to eradicate oxalis; below are a few videos of these most recent offensives taped by the San Francisco Forest Alliance: Native plant advocate Jake Sigg (former president of the California Native Plant society and spokesperson for the San Francisco Natural Areas Program) recently spoke at a public hearing on pesticides about how he thinks San Francisco needs to use much more herbicide to try to eradicate oxalis, simply because it is such a challenging task:   “Yellow oxalis is almost unstoppable –you have to kill that corm, that bulb, the only way you can do it is with herbicides. It’s impossible to do it manually. I wished I’d brought pictures of San Bruno Mountain where they sprayed the entire mountainsides of oxalis. That’s the only way they got rid of it there. I hate to hear all this unwarranted fear about herbicides. I was a gardener all my life, and I’ve used herbicides and I’m 88 now. I’ve used a lot of them, and it would seem if they’re really that bad I would have problems by now!”   What Sigg doesn’t mention in this quote is that there are many pollinator species, including honeybees, bumblebees, and other types of butterflies , that forage on oxalis nectar during the winter time of year when no other flowers are blooming, and could be harmed by the herbicides sprayed on these flowers. So, in the interest of trying to protect one butterfly species (the Mission Blue Butterfly ), San Francisco’s Park and Rec department has apparently decided it is an acceptable tradeoff to poison other pollinators that are important to local ecology and human agriculture. In a Bay Nature Magazine article , Doug Johnson, executive director of the California Invasive Plant Council says there is just no point in trying to wage war against oxalis. “It’s not a target for landscape-level eradication because it’s just way too widespread,” he said. photo of a coyote in a field of oxalis in San Francisco, by Janet Kessler   In oxalis’s case, the benefits that would accrue from fighting it on all fronts aren’t quite enough to justify the costs—there’s just not enough time or people to dedicate to the effort. (Not to mention that eliminating oxalis takes a doggedness that even Sigg describes as “fanatic.” He managed to eradicate it from his garden, but it took him five to six years, and he sometimes had to comb through his plants by hand.) Instead, Cal-IPC focuses its efforts on the battles that can be won: new, potentially dangerous weeds that can be stopped, or existing weeds that threaten valuable resources.   I visited some of the areas that had been sprayed with Triclopyr recently and the results were not impressive. The fields of bright yellow flowers were not gone, just missing in little patches here and there. It is easy to see how it will immediately grow back. California native Oxalis Oregana, growing right next to “invasive” yellow oxalis on a San Francisco city street. The question around what is “native” and “non-native” seems like an arbitrary and potentially slippery debate as it often taps into deeply held xenophobic sentiments about what is valuable, and what should be allowed to thrive in a given location. That said, I find the discussion around “native plants” versus “invasive species” to be particularly fascinating and confusing when it comes to oxalis. It is often the claim of native plant advocates in any location, that oxalis is an non-native invader that needs to be eradicated. The truth is that oxalis grows all around the world, and there are many species of oxalis that are native to California, including Oxalis Californica (Yellow Wood Sorrel) , and another forest-dwelling species with whitish lavender flowers called Oxalis Oregana (Redwood Sorrel) . Oxalis has been growing in California for thousands of years, and the original native people of this country – the American Indians – widely ate both its leaves and bulbs . There is a species of oxalis from South Africa (Oxalis Pes Caprae) , which is the invader that native plant advocates will tell you that they are doggedly fighting in San Francisco parks, but to an untrained eye (like mine), this plant looks exactly the same as the native yellow oxalis. When I was living in New York City, we had a yellow flowered oxalis “weed” growing everywhere that looked pretty much the same as both of these other species, but naturalists in that area called it Oxalis Stricta , which is native to North America. Different species of native and non-native oxalis – can you tell the difference? And does it matter? I suppose plant experts can distinguish between these different types of oxalis, but can your average gardener or pesticide applier? And what specifically makes a native plant “a weed”? It seems there is no scientific definition of the word “weed” – it is just a term used to designate prolific plants that reproduce quickly and sprout up in locations where they are not wanted. And in public lands – who determines if a plant is wanted or not? That is the heart of the fierce battle now waging between native-plant advocates and anti-pesticide activists. Oxalis Pes-Caprae (South African Oxalis) reproduces underground with little teardrop shaped bulbs, so just killing one plant doesn’t kill the underground bulb, which just spreads and pops up somewhere else – much to the dismay of gardeners who like to keep their gardens oxalis free . This plant is literally everywhere – including sidewalk cracks and highway medians, so it really is impossible to get rid of. And is that necessarily really a bad thing, I would ask? Wood Sorrel doesn’t just have aesthetic value with its sunny yellow flowers, but is also useful as an edible plant. I first learned about this cute little weed from renowned New York City foraging guide Wildman Steve Brill , and then discovered my kindergartner was picking and eating it every day at school in New York City. “Oh that stuff? We call it sourgrass, mom” he told me. Now that I live out in San Francisco, both of my children are very fond of oxalis and encounter it every day; in our backyard, surrounding sidewalks and parks in our neighborhood, and at their outdoor schools. We see both the native lavender variety (Redwood Sorrel) and the yellow flowers. Both of my kids are in an outdoor forest school in San Francisco’s parks, so they spend their all of their days playing in nature. Kids are naturally drawn to the vivid yellow flower, and I’ve found them making buttercup daisy-chains, using sourgrass as currency in some complicated grade school game, and, of course, chewing on it. I am personally concerned about pesticide use on oxalis, mainly because San Francisco’s “sourgrass” is in my children’s hands and mouths on a daily basis, and I don’t want them ingesting cancer-causing pesticides. As soon as the weather gets warmer than about 70 degrees, which happens by April, the Oxalis withers and dies back until next season. So, what is the point – I would argue – of wasting money, time, and damaging our local ecosystem with poison, in order to wage a futile war against this useful, beautiful and clearly unstoppable plant. What are your thoughts on oxalis? Experience with this plant? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! + Why it’s okay to love oxalis and to stop poisoning it + A history of the little yellow flower that is everywhere

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Why this city is waging a war on shamrocks

9 booze inspired designs to ring in St. Patricks Day

March 17, 2017 by  
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St. Paddy’s Day is definitely an homage to Ireland, but there’s no denying that it also pays tribute to something a little more universal – booze. And while you may be thinking “What the heck does alcohol have to do with green design?” there are actually a keg’s worth of hooch-related eco innovations out there that you might not know about yet. From a man that recycles his own pee into whisky to a machine that turns beer brewery waste into power , read on to see the best boozy green stories we have on tap. This tiny Irish pub on wheels wins St. Patrick’s Day When Irish cabinetmaker John Walsh decided to convert his rusty old caravan into a tiny pub, the world’s most charming St. Patrick’s Day hotspot was born. The Shebeen is literally translated into “an illicit bar where alcohol is sold illegally.” The mobile booze cruiser was so popular in Ireland, the people of Boston commissioned another one to be brought to the states. Aspiring Chinese architect built his office out of 8,500 recycled beer bottles This brings new meaning to the song 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall . Aspiring architect in Chongqing city, China designed and constructed his very own office with 8,500 recycled beer bottles. The impressive upcycled structure gets its sturdy foundation from 40 layers of beer bottles. The entire construction took four months and $11,000 to complete. PISSKY: Gilpin Whisky is Recycled from Diabetic’s Urine James Gilpin has a bit of a different interpretation of the adage “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Gilpin, who has Type 1 Diabetes got to thinking about elderly patients with diabetes, like his grandmother, who secrete tons of unprocessed medicine and sugar in their urine and had a cool – albeit a little gross – breakthrough. His Gilpin Family Whisky project is a high end line of single malt whiskey made from the sugar-laden urine of people with diabetes – Pissky! We’ll drink to that! HEINEKEN WOBO: A Beer Bottle That Doubles as a Brick Have your brick and drink it too? Famed beer brewer Alfred Heineken and Dutch architect John Habraken came out with their Heineken WOBO (world bottle) brick all the way back in 1963, but the principle behind it still rings true today. As you probably already guessed, the idea behind the boozy brick was that thirsty people could drink their fix of beer from the WOBO and reuse it to build structures. Cheers to that. Intoxicating Pavilion Made of 33,000 Yellow Beer Crates It must have taken a lot of frat parties to empty out the 33,000 yellow beer crates that architects SHSH stacked atop one another to create this intoxicating pavilion . Using the crates like giant legos, the design features interesting architectural touches like columns, arches and even domes inside. Beer Can House Has 50,000 “Bottles of Beer” on the Walls 99 bottles of beer is already quite a few to have on your walls, but how about 50,000?! Well, that’s about how many John Milkovisch used for his Beer Can House. He drank many of the cans himself (not his least favorite part of the job, we’re sure) and they’re on the walls, swaying from the front porch, and pretty much everywhere else! PurposeEnergy Turns Beer Brewery Waste Into Clean-Burning Biofuel We’ve seen everything from ice cream to 4Loko being used as fuel and now we can add beer to the list of alternative energy sources – well, beer waste, that is. PurposeEnergy Inc. has created a device that recycles the waste from brewing beer into a functional natural gas. World’s Greenest Whisky Distillery Unveiled in Scotland Okay, so we know today is supposed to be all about Ireland, but Scotland has been greening their booze game too so we need to give them a shoutout. Scottish drinks giant Diageo recently unveiled their £40 million environmentally friendly Roseisle Distillery in Elgin. The innovative project by Austin-Smith: Lord Architects infuses traditional distilling with modern environmental technologies and was even awarded a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ award. DIY (Drink-It-Yourself) Xylophone Made From Beer Bottles! Up until we say this crazy contraption, the only music we thought could come out of beer drinking was awful karaoke. Designer Sam Gensburg’s creation is a lot less painful on the ears and features a special packaging for beer bottles that allows them to be transformed into a tone-accurate xylophone after you’ve drunk ’em. + Click through our gallery to see more booze-related green design

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9 booze inspired designs to ring in St. Patricks Day

South Korean Scientists Create Laser-Based Injection System to Replace Hypodermic Needles

September 17, 2012 by  
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It’s fair to say that no-one likes receiving injections, yet for foreign travelers, children requiring immunizations, and flu shots, needles are an unfortunate necessity. However a team of scientists from Seoul National University in South Korea have developed a new laser-based system that blasts microscopic jets of drugs into the skin, negating the need for large and painful single-use hypodermic needles and the medical waste they entail. Best of all, the laser-jab is said to be no more painful than being hit with a puff of air. Read the rest of South Korean Scientists Create Laser-Based Injection System to Replace Hypodermic Needles Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: injection , jack yoh , Laser , laser based injection system , medical engineering , medical technology , microscopic , seoul national university , south korea , star trek

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South Korean Scientists Create Laser-Based Injection System to Replace Hypodermic Needles

Artist Duncan MacAskill Creates Painterly Portraits From Thousands of Thumbtacks!

September 17, 2012 by  
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Read the rest of Artist Duncan MacAskill Creates Painterly Portraits From Thousands of Thumbtacks! Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: Ally Capellino , Creative Reuse , Duncan MacAskill , eco design , eco-art , local production , london artist , sustainable art , thumbtacks

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Artist Duncan MacAskill Creates Painterly Portraits From Thousands of Thumbtacks!

Korean Scientists Have Made Artificial Skin From ‘Nanohair’ Fibers

August 8, 2012 by  
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A team of South Korean researchers have created a synthetic equivalent to human skin that is able to detect pressure as well as stresses and forces being applied to it, such as pinching. This artificial skin was derived from the intermolecular forces between “nanohairs” and can not only be easily manufactured, but done so cheaply. Read the rest of Korean Scientists Have Made Artificial Skin From ‘Nanohair’ Fibers Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: artificial skin , human skin , Kahp-Yang Suh , nature materials , piezoelectricity , piezoresistance , seoul national university

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Korean Scientists Have Made Artificial Skin From ‘Nanohair’ Fibers

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