Some of the oldest and largest baobab trees are dying

June 12, 2018 by  
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A new survey of baobab trees throughout southern Africa has shown that most of the two dozen largest and oldest trees in the region have died in the past decade or are currently very ill. While human-caused physical damage to individual trees may explain specific die-offs, researchers believe that climate change, which is occurring faster in southern Africa than many places on Earth, may be the most significant factor in the trees’ poor health. “Such a disastrous decline is very unexpected,” chemist and survey organizer Adrian Patrut told NPR . “It’s a strange feeling, because these are trees which may live for 2,000 years or more, and we see that they’re dying one after another during our lifetime. It’s statistically very unlikely.” The iconic baobab are culturally important for many communities. A common myth explains the baobab’s unique shape as a result of gods punishing the tree for its vanity in its extraordinary size, with the baobab being uprooted and flipped upside down with its “roots” facing upwards. Baobabs can be cultivated for their nutritious leaves and fruit and may prove to be a source of economic development . The trees are also ecologically significant, providing habitat and food for a wide variety of mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. Related: Can this tree provide financial security for 10 million people in Africa? Because of their unique shape and growth patterns that distort their tree rings, accurate dating of a baobab is difficult. Despite some questioning of Patrut’s methods, researchers nonetheless recognize that baobab die-offs is an unsettling trend that deserves more study. As southern Africa likely faces intense temperature increases and drought , the urgency to understand and better protect the baobabs is clear. “The decline and death of so many large baobabs in recent years is so tragic,” ecologist David Baum told NPR . “It is heartbreaking that any should die — but even worse that we might be seeing the beginning of the end of all the giant baobabs on the planet.” Via NPR Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Some of the oldest and largest baobab trees are dying

MIT study shows that China’s climate policy could "more than pay for itself"

April 23, 2018 by  
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Is China turning the tide on pollution ? The country stands to benefit not just environmentally, but financially as well. A new MIT study found if China reduces carbon dioxide emissions by four percent a year, the nation could net around $339 billion in health savings by the year 2030. That figure could be around four times what it would cost the country to achieve climate goals – in other words, according to MIT, “the country’s climate policy would more than pay for itself.” Fulfilling its international pledge to cut carbon emissions makes sense for China in many ways. Not only could the nation contribute significantly to the global battle against climate change (as it’s the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases) – but the health impacts for Chinese citizens could be huge. Improving air quality could avoid a considerable amount of deaths from air pollution in every province — and MIT put a dollar figure on the benefit to society: $339 billion. Related: China reports meeting its 2020 carbon intensity goals three years early MIT associate professor Noelle Eckley Selin co-authored the study published today in Nature Climate Change . In a statement, she said: “The country could actually come out net positive, just based on the health co-benefits associated with air quality improvements, relative to the cost of a climate policy. This is a motivating factor for countries to engage in global climate policy.” How did the team reach their figure? They developed a modeling approach called the Regional Emissions Air Quality Climate and Health framework, combining an energy -economic model and atmospheric chemistry model. They used the energy-economic model “to simulate how a given climate policy changes a province’s economic activity, energy use, and emissions of carbon dioxide and air pollutants.” They ran simulations under four scenarios: one with no policy and three with policies aiming to cut emissions through 2030 by three, four, and five percent a year. They then plugged in results into the atmospheric chemistry model and estimated particulate matter concentrations for provinces to help calculate the pollution communities are inhaling. Epidemiological literature helped them figure out how many deaths could be avoided. They calculated the economic value of the deaths, which they compared against the total cost of implementing a policy scenario. Their findings? In a no-policy scenario, by 2030 there would be over 2.3 million premature, pollution-related deaths. In the three, four, or five percent emissions reductions scenarios, China could respectively avoid 36,000, 94,000, and 160,000 premature deaths. The savings “gained as a result of health co-benefits equals $138.4 billion, $339.6 billion, and $534.8 billion, respectively,” according to MIT. + MIT Images via Diego Jimenez , Frak Lopez , and Manon Boyer on Unsplash

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MIT study shows that China’s climate policy could "more than pay for itself"

For 16 years, this stork has flown 8,700 miles to return to his one true love

April 16, 2018 by  
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Just when you thought the world was one raging garbage fire , along comes this amazing stork to brighten the day. For the past 16 years, without fail, one male stork has flown 8,700 miles to be with his mate who can no longer fly after being shot by poachers. Klepetan the stork travels from his winter nest in South Africa to his mate’s Malena’s home in Croatia every single March where they reunite and raise a new brood. Malena was injured by a gunshot in 1993, but a local hero took her home after finding her by a lake and nursed her back to health. “If I had left her in the pond foxes would have eaten her. But I changed her fate, so now I’m responsible for her life,” said Stjepan Vokic, the man who cares for Malena. Now, although she can’t migrate any longer, she has a pretty sweet life. Vokic has built an “improvised Africa” where she can stay warm, and he cares for her by bathing her, catching her fish in the river and making sure her feet are moisturized. He even watches stork documentaries with her so she won’t get lonely, and takes her fishing. Related: This friendly fish has visited a Japanese diver for 25 years Klepetan arrives every March as spring begins in Croatia after traveling for a month from his winter home. Every spring, Vokic builds a new nest on his roof so that when Klepetan arrives, the couple can mate, and so far, they’ve had 62 chicks together. In the fall, Klepetan migrates back to South Africa with his new little family, and Malena stays behind with her human friend. Vokic says that the couple struggles to say goodbye every year, and Malena hides and stops eating when she knows Klepetan is about to go. Via Oddity Central Images via HRT

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For 16 years, this stork has flown 8,700 miles to return to his one true love

Land degradation could displace 50 to 700 million people by 2050

March 27, 2018 by  
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Land decay is undermining the well-being of two-fifths of all the people on Earth, or around 3.2 billion people , according to an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) three-year assessment, penned by over 100 experts hailing from 45 countries. It’s the first comprehensive land health assessment, according to Agence France Presse (AFP) — and assessment co-chair Robert Scholes of South Africa said land degradation is “pushing the planet towards a sixth mass extinction .” Human activity is driving dangerous land degradation — specifically quick expansion and unsustainable management of crop and grazing lands, according to IPBES. They said land decay has hit critical levels, impacting food security , water purification, and energy. The impacts of land degradation can be glimpsed in loss of biodiversity , declining animal populations, deforestation , and loss of soil health, to name a few. The assessment also says land degradation contributes to climate change . Related: Substantial swaths of globe face desertification without climate action — new study Grazing and crop lands sprawl across one third of the planet’s land surface, with under 25 percent of that surface escaping significant impacts of human activity, according to IPBES, although scientists estimate that figure will plunge to under 10 percent by 2050. As the population grows, there will be an even higher demand for food and biofuels , and researchers think pesticide and fertilizer use could double by 2050. Scholes said around four billion people will reside in drylands in a little over 30 years, and by then land degradation and climate change could force “50 to 700 million people to migrate.” Social instability could be a consequence of decreasing land productivity; “particularly in dryland areas, where years with extremely low rainfall have been associated with an increase of up to 45 percent in violent conflict.” The researchers pointed to an array of options for land restoration; for example, planting native species , developing green infrastructure like parks , or river channel restoration in urban locations. IPBES’s statement said humanity can attempt to avoid agricultural expansion into native habitats by increasing yields on farmlands that already exist and by shifting toward eating habits that don’t degrade land to the same extent, such as  plant-based diets. IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson said, “Of the many valuable messages in the report, this ranks among the most important: implementing the right actions to combat land degradation can transform the lives of millions of people across the planet, but this will become more difficult and more costly the longer we take to act.” + Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Via Agence France Presse Images via Depositphotos (1 , 2 )

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Land degradation could displace 50 to 700 million people by 2050

Rare "super-deep" diamond and mineral found in South African mine

March 9, 2018 by  
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Scientists have uncovered a rare “super-deep” diamond in the Cullinan mine in South Africa’s Gauteng province. Wrapped in this diamond is the mineral calcium silicate perovskite, the fourth-most abundant mineral found on Earth — a significant discovery because, despite its abundance, this marks the first time in which calcium silicate perovskite has been found in nature. “This was very special because this mineral had been theoretically predicted, but it was not thought possible to see it preserved at the Earth’s surface for observation and measurement,” study co-author Graham Pearson told Inverse . “Finding a natural object that has never been seen by anyone before is always exhilarating! It’s what most natural scientists dream about.” Cullinan Mine is known for its rare blue diamonds as well as its scientific and commercial value. According to the authors of the study published in Nature , diamonds “provide access to the deepest intact material from the Earth’s interior through the minerals contained within their volumes.” The discovered diamond is called “super-deep” in reference to its origins 200 to 1,000 kilometers (about 125-621 miles) below the surface of the Earth , The first-ever natural discovery of calcium silicate perovskite (CaSiO3) wrapped in a rare diamond is providing scientists with a privileged glimpse into the deep inner workings of the Earth. Related: Scientists observe ‘diamond rain’ similar to that found on icy giant planets The super-deep diamond was determined to have formed approximately 760 kilometers below the surface of the Earth. Because the diamond formed in such a deep location, it was highly pressurized. This enabled the diamond to successfully hold CaSiO3, which exists only in very high pressure environments. “Only the super-strong nature of the diamond, and the particular nature of the fast eruption of the host kimberlite, in this case, provided a favorable set of circumstances that led to the preservation of this mineral ,” explained Pearson. “Many people predicted that we would never actually see a natural version of this mineral at the Earth’s surface because it is so unstable.” Via Inverse Images via Wikimedia and Petra Diamonds

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Honeycomb shading keeps Bro Ole Scheerens skyscrapers naturally cool in Singapore

March 9, 2018 by  
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Büro Ole Scheeren recently completed DUO, a pair of sculptural glass towers in Singapore’s Kampong Glam neighborhood. The striking mixed-use development is partly wrapped in a honeycomb facade designed to promote solar shading and to accentuate the curved facades. The concave facades also help create a cooling microclimate by channeling winds towards the lushly landscaped parks below. In addition to its eye-catching appearance, DUO also marks a historic joint venture development between the governments of Malaysia and Singapore. Located between Singapore’s historic Kampong Glam district and commercial Bugis Junction, the twin towers will transform the area into a new civic hub with welcoming public spaces including 24-hour covered and open-air gardens , walkways, cafes, and restaurants. “DUO is about a sense of urban responsibility,” says Ole Scheeren , principal of Büro Ole Scheeren. “It shows how architecture can become a tool of reconciliation within an otherwise disparate and fragmented urban context. The project repairs a broken piece of the city and celebrates public life as the central quality of a socially responsible urban environment.” Related: Ole Scheeren unveils designs for a stunning “sky forest” in Vietnam The taller of the two towers at 186 meters is solely residential and houses 660 units. The second 170-meter-tall building includes corporate offices and a five-star Andaz hotel. Additional commercial areas are placed at the public ground floor that’s entirely passively cooled in an oasis-like environment. + Büro Ole Scheeren Via ArchDaily Images © Iwan Baan

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Green-roofed Czech Forestry Headquarters seeks symbiosis with the forest

March 9, 2018 by  
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Imagine if your office was set in the middle of a forest—that’s the image Chybik + Kristof aims for in their competition-winning designs for the new Czech Forestry Headquarters. Located in Hradec Králové, the office building draws direct inspiration from the surrounding forest with its liberal use of timber, a facade evocative of tree trunks, and canopy-like green roofs that encourage bird nesting. The interiors continue the vision of the forest as a workplace with a calming environment full of greenery and natural materials. The Chybik + Kristof-led design team’s “Forestry in the Forest” proposal was born from an initial site visit. When the team explored the Hradec forest beyond the Lesy ?eské republiky campus, they noticed the dramatic temperature difference between the hot campus buildings and the cool forest . “We asked ourselves what we really are forced to work in the hot interior when it would be best to take your laptop among the trees and work in an environment full of peace? Peace,” wrote the architects. Related: Paris hopes to create a forest 5 times bigger than NYC’s Central Park The forest-inspired office is centered on an open courtyard from where buildings radiate outwards, following the design philosophy that “the building grows into a forest, and the forest into the building.” Natural daylight streams through the buildings which recreate the outdoor environment with exposed timber framework indoors, hanging plants, and a natural materials and color palette. A natural trail with educational signage winds around the building and take visitors through areas planted with particular species like spruce, beech and fir, and oak and hornbeams. + Chybik + Kristof Via ArchDaily Images via Chybik + Kristof

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One in four of world’s largest cities under water stress

February 15, 2018 by  
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Cape Town, South Africa is rapidly approaching what has been called “Day Zero,” the moment when the diverse metropolitan area of nearly 4 million runs out of clean drinking water . While Cape Town has taken drastic measures to conserve water , it is simply not enough to avoid the imminent crisis. And now, as government and residents prepare for the worst, it’s important to understand which other major cities around the world are also at risk. Lack of water is truly a global problem; one in four of the world’s largest cities are currently under “water stress,” with that number expected to rise due to climate change, human activity, and population growth. Water shortages have the potential to aggravate already unstable political and economic conditions, which is of particular concern in cities such as Cairo . Currently confronting violent extremism and managing ongoing political tension, Egypt is also rated by the World Health Organization as ranking high among middle-income countries on the number of deaths related to water pollution. This is tied to increasing pollution in the Nile River. The United Nations estimates that Egypt will suffer critical water shortages by 2025, exacerbating the potential for conflict. Similarly, São Paulo and Moscow are plagued by pollution due to poor public policy decisions. Fortunately, this means that the problem may be fixable, however entrenched it might be. Related: Venice’s canals go dry following weeks without rain Coastal cities like Jakarta and Miami are facing unique water problems as both attempt to pull freshwater from aquifers. Due to lack of public access to piped water, residents of Jakarta have dug illegal wells, draining the underlying aquifer and actually causing the land to sink. As a result, about 40 percent of Jakarta now lies below sea level. While Miami may not be sinking, its freshwater reserves are suffering from seawater contamination as a result of rapid sea level rise and wetland habitat destruction. Even cities like London are facing a water-scarce future, with severe shortages expected by 2040. Governments can make the necessary policy changes to solve this problem, but they must act quickly. The water crisis is already upon us in many cities. Via BBC News Images via Depositphotos (1) (2)

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One in four of world’s largest cities under water stress

South Africa declares national disaster amid water crisis

February 14, 2018 by  
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South Africa’s has declared a national disaster over the country’s devastating drought . Although Cape Town has pushed back day zero – the day that the city runs out of water – until June 4, the country re-assessed the magnitude of the drought and determined that it has reached disaster proportions. Embed from Getty Images window.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’gQyO9-pJQGFviQfJxV_bFA’,sig:’ZFbITQcOBf5-Gis86VmKk0R1VwsYtyop1Ko3KaFtFK4=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’917662626′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })}); A drought triggered by El Nino and driven by climate change has ravaged parts of the country, with the city of Cape Town, home to over 4 million, facing a water shortage that will require residents to line up to obtain water rations. Related: Cape Town’s water pipes could run dry by April Water consumption in South Africa has declined by about 139 million gallons per day thanks to residents who have worked hard to reduce usage. Residents are asked to use just 13 gallons of water a day. The hospitality industry has also gotten into the fight by asking hotel guests to keep showers under 2 minutes, and restaurants have stopped using linens and glassware to help reduce laundry needs. Embed from Getty Images window.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’rTDF3ifzRwdZBuD23l-WlQ’,sig:’DZkRSoj0MiowFTKTU535y179iz34k_oHqiagdJUDbLc=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’917662584′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })}); Even still, on June 4, residents will need to line up at military-guarded locations to obtain water rations. There are also fears that the ongoing drought could harm the country’s industrial and agricultural output. Declaring the situation a national disaster allows the central government to take over relief efforts, which also means more money is available to address it. Via Reuters Images via Deposit Photos ( 1 , 2 )

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Over 200 nations commit to ending ocean plastic waste

December 7, 2017 by  
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Over 200 countries signed a United Nations resolution in Nairobi, Kenya to eliminate plastic waste in the world’s oceans. The resolution is an important step forward to establishing a legally binding treaty that would deal with the global oceanic plastic pollution problem. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), there will be more plastic by weight in the world’s oceans than fish by 2050 if current trends continue. The resolution offers hope for the future. “There is very strong language in this resolution,” said Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s environment minister, in an interview with Reuters . “We now have an agreement to explore a legally binding instrument and other measures and that will be done at the international level over the next 18 months.” Although plastic pollution is a global problem, Norway was the country that initiated the UN resolution. “We found micro plastics inside mussels, which is something we like to eat,” said Helgesen. “In January this year, a fairly rare species of whale was stranded on a beach because of exhaustion and they simply had to kill it. In its tummy they found 30 plastic bags.” Even the most remote parts of the globe have not escaped the plastic menace. In the final episode of the acclaimed  Blue Planet II ,  plastic pollution is documented in isolated areas of Antarctica . Related: Scientists discover cheap method to identify “lost” 99% of ocean microplastics China is the world’s largest producer of plastic waste and biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. However, the world’s most populous country has taken the global lead in addressing these environmental crises. “If there is one nation changing at the moment more than anyone else, it’s China … the speed and determination of the government to change is enormous,” said Erik Solheim, head of UNEP, according to Reuters . Meanwhile, the resolution, which was originally intended to have legally binding targets and timetables, was weakened by the United States , after Trump Administration officials rejected the stronger language. Current American intransigence notwithstanding, Solheim envisions a future in which products and manufacturing systems are redesigned to use as little plastic as possible. “Let’s abolish products that we do not need … if you go to tourist places like Bali, a huge amount of the plastic picked from the oceans are actually straws,” said Solheim. Although there is much work to be done before a treaty is signed, several nations are already moving ahead to protect the environment. To mark the signing of the UN resolutions, 39 countries, including Chile, Oman, Sri Lanka and South Africa, adopted new commitments to reduce plastic pollution . Via Reuters Images via Depositphotos and  Trevor Leyenhorst/Flickr

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