Clear doesn’t mean clean for Venice’s canals

March 24, 2020 by  
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Images of dolphins cruising Italian ports and swans floating beneath picturesque bridges in Venice’s famous canals are popping up on social media feeds. But clearer  water  doesn’t necessarily mean cleaner. Unfortunately, two weeks of lockdown isn’t enough to reverse centuries of human impact on Venice’s canals. Boat traffic kicking up natural sediment is the main cause of the canals’ usual murkiness. “The low turbidity of the water does not mean cleanliness,” Pierpaolo Campostrini, the managing director for the Consortium for Managing Scientific Research on Venice Lagoon System, told ABC News. “The transparency is due to the absence of sediment resuspension.” Cold water is probably also contributing to the canals’ clarity, as it’s not warm enough for the synthesis of organic compounds from  carbon dioxide . Related: Coronavirus and its impact on carbon emissions Water pollution can be invisible. “ Pollution  can impact how water appears, but perfectly clear water can contain toxic substances,” Kristen Thyng, assistant research professor at Texas A&M University, told Afar. Italy has been on lockdown since March 9, when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national quarantine. At the time of writing, Italy has more than 59,000 confirmed  coronavirus  cases. This is the second-highest national rate after China. Venice is in northern Italy, where factories usually cause air pollution. Because the nationwide lockdown has prompted the temporary closure of many industries, air quality has improved. The European Space Agency has captured clearer skies from its satellites. However, chemical analysis would be necessary to say exactly how much both air and water quality have improved in Italy during the pandemic. Citizens of Venice were still recovering from record high tides last November, which prompted the Italian government to declare a state of emergency. Many shops and hotels  flooded , and St. Mark’s Square, a tourist favorite, was underwater. Unfortunately, most locals aren’t able to appreciate the canals’ current beauty. Lockdown means they can only leave their homes for necessities, work and  health  circumstances. + ABC News Via Afar Image via Gerhard Gellinger

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Clear doesn’t mean clean for Venice’s canals

Wisconsin’s hidden eco-wellness hotspot

March 24, 2020 by  
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Madison,  Wisconsin  is defined by water. It’s only one of two cities in the US built on an isthmus (the other is Seattle), and it has five lakes. The population of just over a quarter million is overwhelmingly young and educated, thanks to the massive University of Wisconsin. Mad City is one of the Midwest’s more progressive places and regularly features on “best of” lists. But you have to be tough to live here. Winter temperatures regularly dive below freezing, while summer temperatures often top 90 degrees. Outdoor activities in Madison Madison’s outdoor recreation revolves around its lakes. If you like kayaking , stand up paddleboarding or water skiing, you’re in luck. This is also a place to try more extreme water sports, such as wakeboarding, kiteboarding and flyboarding (where water can propel you almost 50 feet in the air). Those who are looking for something more contemplative will enjoy a trip to  Olbrich Botanical Garden . The 16 acres look their best in spring and summer, but even in winter you can enjoy orchids blooming in the sun-filled glass Bolz Conservatory. The garden’s 30-foot high Thai pavilion was a gift from the Thai royal family. The red lacquer and gold leaf structure was built in  Thailand , shipped by sea, rail and truck to Madison, then reassembled by Thai artisans without using screws or nails. At the  UW Madison Arboretum , you can meander through woodlands, wetlands, savannas and restored prairies on more than 17 miles of  trails . You can also see rare effigy mounds built more than 1,000 years ago. The arboretum features events like fungi workshops and expert-led nature walks. In the winter, it’s a popular place to snowshoe and cross-country ski. Wellness in Madison The Garver Feed Mill building is the latest wellness star in the Madison scene. After the US  Sugar  Company constructed this brick behemoth in 1906 for beet sugar processing, it became known as the Sugar Castle because of its dramatic arched gothic windows. Later it was a factory for formulating livestock feed, before sitting derelict for a couple of decades. But just last November, it reopened as a spectacularly popular event space, site of the farmers’ market during winter, and home of wellness providers and artisan food makers. The whole building is gorgeous, with lots of exposed brick walls, big windows and chandeliers. For the perfect wellness-focused day at Garver, take a class at  Perennial Yoga , eat a healthy meal at plant-based Surya Café, then visit  Kosa Wellness Spa & Retreat  to relax in the steam room and sauna or to get an Ayurvedic treatment.  “Something society doesn’t afford us is quiet and space,” said owner Shilpa Sankaran, who aspires to provide Madison with just that. “Where do you hear your own voice? That’s where the remedy lives, in our own knowing.” She sources most of her spa products from Wisconsin and has a special interest in supporting women in business. Women in  India  who have escaped sex trafficking manufacture the spa’s robes. I especially liked how they left some of the more attractive graffiti in place on the treatment room walls from the years that squatters filled the building. If art uplifts you, the  Chazen Museum of Art  on the UW campus houses lots of work by famous artists, including Miro, Picasso, and Louise Nevelson, plus interesting installations by UW art faculty. This big  museum  is free and well worth visiting. Dining out in Madison Madison is an easy town for vegetarians and  vegans . The  Green Owl Café , Madison’s first all-veg restaurant, is a cheerful and comfortable hangout spot for bowls, veggie burgers, vegan wings and vegan desserts like lava cake and coconut cream pie.  Surya Cafe , in the Garver Feed Mill, features more adventurous — some might say startling — combinations, such as a curried cauliflower waffle with maple-cumin kale and mango jalapeno sauce. Himal Chuli serves Nepali food, with several veggie and tofu-based options. The roti is so excellent I ordered a second serving.  Ian’s Pizza has several locations and is one of my favorite Madison eateries. You can custom order a gigantic salad with more than 40 mix-in options, and they often have vegan slices. For vegan dessert, don’t miss  Bloom Bake Shop . This bakery has a whole case of vegan cupcakes. Public transit Since Madison is largely a college town, you’ll find lots of public transportation and  bikes . It’s known as an extremely bikable city, so if you like biking, check out Madison  BCycle , the local bike share program. This program is designed for short trips of under an hour. If you want a bike for longer-term use, the  Budget Bicycle Center  rents various kinds of bikes. Metro Transit  is Madison’s bus company, serving the greater Madison area. Eco-wellness lodging The white dome of the Capitol filled my window at the  Madison Concourse Hotel . In addition to this stunning view and a convenient downtown location, the Concourse has been refining its eco measures for a decade. The  hotel uses energy-efficient lighting, offers reusable glass cups instead of plastic in guest rooms and is a member of REAP Food Group, which works on shortening the distance from farm to table. The Concourse’s Ozone laundry system and high-efficiency water heaters save an estimated 400,000 gallons of water per year. For an out-of-town sojourn, the  Holy Wisdom Monastery  in nearby Middleton has private rooms in its retreat house and two additional secluded hermitages.  Holy Wisdom offers the choice of a communal spiritual experience or lots of solitude as you hike trails through its prairies or read in the  library . You can even wear a silence tag if you want to take a silent retreat, and people won’t talk to you. Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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Wisconsin’s hidden eco-wellness hotspot

The future of building is communities that are all-electric and ultra-efficient

December 19, 2019 by  
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From Utah to Texas to California, these homes are changing the way we think about the built environment.

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The future of building is communities that are all-electric and ultra-efficient

Early-career public-sector sustainability professionals reflect on VERGE 19 (Part 1)

December 19, 2019 by  
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Insightful on mobility. Actionable ideas for addressing food waste. Youth activism. What inspired CivicSpark leaders at this year’s conference.

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Early-career public-sector sustainability professionals reflect on VERGE 19 (Part 1)

Sculptural, solar-powered home generates more energy than it uses

October 24, 2019 by  
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In the Texan suburb of Addison just north of Dallas, 5G Studio Collaborative has completed the Winnwood Residence, a contemporary home that blurs the line between the indoors and out. Certified LEED Platinum , the single-family home offsets all its energy use with a 10 kW rooftop solar array and geothermal wells drilled beneath the driveway. Walls of glass, large skylights and outdoor living spaces immerse the residents in the landscape and help bring in natural light and ventilation to reduce the home’s energy demands. Completed in 2016, the Winnwood Residence is a sculptural, single-story home that spreads out across 4,600 square feet to embrace varied landscape views, one of which is a land and water conservation park funded by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the U.S. Department of the Interior; the front third of the client’s property has been designated as an extension to the conservation project across the street. To keep focus on the outdoors, the architects opted for a minimalist yet modern design of “a solid black plaster mass sitting within an enclosed garden.” The interiors are also simple and feature white walls of smooth reflective plaster and minimalist decor. Related: Solar-powered Austin home can save owners nearly $100K in energy costs “The exterior finish is black plaster, upon which climbing Boston Ivy is expected to overtake overtime; the shadowy blackness of the exterior surfaces allows one to truly enjoy light, not shadow, filtering through the trees,” the architects explained in a statement. “The architecture elegantly and quietly achieves its sustainability objectives; proposes a new vocabulary of architecture that is decidedly un-local yet celebrates Texas living and is very much about the landscape as it is about the interior.” The building will gradually blend into the lush landscape, which has been repopulated with native and adaptive species. To further reduce site impact, the architects installed a rainwater collection cistern beneath the driveway to minimize runoff and increase water permeability. Geothermal and solar energy power the energy-positive home. + 5G Studio Collaborative Photography by Adam Mørk via 5G Studio Collaborative

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Sculptural, solar-powered home generates more energy than it uses

Which cities are the most sustainable? WalletHub releases Top 100 Greenest US Cities 2019

October 9, 2019 by  
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Ever wonder which American cities are the most eco-friendly? WalletHub recently unveiled its list of 2019’s Greenest Cities in the U.S., after comparing 100 of the country’s most populated cities across 28 underlying indicators of environmental-friendliness and sustainability. Some of the key factors surveyed were greenhouse gas emissions per capita, green job opportunities per capita, smart energy policies and clean initiatives. Interestingly, nine of the top 10 greenest U.S. cities are on the West Coast. WalletHub, renowned as a personal finance website, has long advocated for consumer interests. Green living is a growing public concern, perhaps because sustainability and financial needs are closely intertwined. To find the American cities with the best green programs and eco-conscious consumer habits, WalletHub conducted this study. Related: 2019 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard reveals leading states in clean energy adoption What is green living, though? Green living is a lifestyle that embraces environmental preservation by reducing, reusing and recycling . It contributes to ecological protection and habitat biodiversity while simultaneously conserving natural resources. There is, after all, increasing demand for coordination around land conservation, local agriculture, renewable energy and waste reduction. According to WalletHub, green living boils down to a choice of preserving the planet. This can be achieved via cleaner, more sustainable practices and habits. Green living benefits both the environment and public health , which places greener cities at an advantage. By assessing 28 metrics, including a city’s environmental quality and climate change contributions, transportation and energy sources, lifestyle and eco-friendly behaviors and policies, WalletHub determined the following to be the top 10 greenest cities in the country. 1. San Francisco, California 2. San Diego, California 3. Irvine, California 4. Washington, D.C. 5. San Jose, California 6. Seattle, Washington 7. Fremont, California 8. Sacramento, California 9. Portland, Oregon 10. Oakland, California While WalletHub’s study did not assess all cities in the U.S., it did examine the top 100 largest cities by population. After highlighting the greenest states in the group, WalletHub also called out those at the bottom of the list, citing them as needing improvement. Those that ranked in the bottom as the least green of the most populous American cities are: 91. Virginia Beach, Virginia 92. Jacksonville, Florida 93. Detroit, Michigan 94. Cleveland, Ohio 95. Gilbert, Arizona 96. Mesa, Arizona 97. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky 98. Toledo, Ohio 99. Corpus Christi, Texas 100. Baton Rouge, Lousiana Green living continues to gain momentum. It is hoped that by more people consistently choosing to go green, incessant waste and its associated long-term costs can be reduced, thereby saving money at the household, local, state, national and even international levels. More importantly, it can preserve our planet for years to come. + WalletHub Image via Pexels

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Which cities are the most sustainable? WalletHub releases Top 100 Greenest US Cities 2019

Innovative fish adoption program protects San Marcos River from invasive species

September 26, 2019 by  
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Like any ecosystem , the San Marcos River is happier without invasive species taking over. This spring-fed river in San Marcos, Texas, maintains its 72-degree temperature year-round, making it popular with humans, fish and turtles who live in the area. But a problem arises when humans decide they no longer want their exotic aquarium fish and decide to release these non-native species into the river . Fortunately, the San Marcos Parks and Recreation Department has devised an innovative way to protect both the river and the unwanted fish. Inhabitat spoke with Melani Howard and Eric Weeks to learn more about San Marcos’ Pet Fish Drop Off program. Howard is the Habitat Conservation Plan Manager for San Marcos’ Engineering and Capital Improvements Department. Weeks is the coordinator of the Discovery Center, an interpretive center for the Blanco and San Marcos rivers, parks and associated trails. Related: Robotic fish offer a solution to controlling invasive species Inhabitat: How and when did the program start, and why was it needed? Howard and Weeks: The program started in 2017 to reduce the number of non-native fish being dumped into the San Marcos River from aquaria and, most importantly, to educate the public about the impacts of non-native fish on native populations. We started with a small outside pond, but the predators eventually turned it into a “food bowl,” so we had to move the program to our inside tanks.  We have three large aquaria — one is dedicated to native species and the other two we use for the Fish Drop Off program. Inhabitat: How many fish do you usually have at once? Howard and Weeks: We typically have anywhere between 15 to 30 fish total in both aquaria. Inhabitat: What types of fish have people dropped off? Howard and Weeks: Suckermouth catfish (our target fish to collect, as it is incredibly invasive ), goldfish, angelfish, neons, beta, zebra, bala, gourami, cichlid, rainbow, Oscar, aquatic frog, carp, tetra and platy. Inhabitat: Do the fish get “adopted” and brought home to new aquariums? If so, how does that process work? Howard and Weeks: Yes, all the fish are adoptable by anyone who wants them. The adoption process has been fairly constant, although has slowed down somewhat because of decreased marketing. Individuals just have to stop by the Discovery Center, Monday to Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., with their own take-home containers. Inhabitat: Who takes care of the fish, and what kind of care is provided? Howard and Weeks: Discovery Center staff cares for the fish. Care consists of regular cleaning, water changes and feeding. Inhabitat: What results have you seen from this program? Howard and Weeks: The program has been used by college students primarily, but we have also received goldfish after the carnival has been in town (ugh), and people are very grateful to have such a program. Adopters are also quite pleased to be getting free fish. But the most important result is public education regarding the impacts of aquaria dumping.  Inhabitat: What has the public response been? Howard and Weeks: Incredibly positive. It’s been fun. Inhabitat: Could you give us a brief overview of your involvement with the fish program, as well as your other duties as watershed protection manager? Howard and Weeks: My involvement consists of responding to questions and assisting the public with dropping off or adopting the pet fish, tracking the number of fish and species type dropped off/adopted for reports and ensuring proper care and feeding. We also have education and outreach with the intent to reduce the introduction of non-native fish species in the San Marcos River. Watershed protection manager duties include implementation of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan to conserve habitat for endangered and threatened species that inhabit the upper San Marcos River. Conservation measures include non-native predator fish removal, non-native aquatic and terrestrial vegetation removal, aquatic and terrestrial native plantings, recreation management, litter removal, bank stabilization, education and outreach and water quality best management practices. Inhabitat: What are the main threats to the San Marcos River? Howard and Weeks: The primary threat is overpumping of the Edwards Aquifer, which feeds the San Marcos River, water quality impacts from urbanization, impacts of recreation, invasive species — all these threaten the diverse, high quality habitat in the river, which supports diverse natives including several endangered species . + Pet Fish Drop Off Program Images via Melani Howard

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Innovative fish adoption program protects San Marcos River from invasive species

Do people in tiny houses live more sustainably?

August 2, 2019 by  
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Minimalist living is as old as time, but the tiny house trend sweeping across North America and Europe has influenced many people to downsize, declutter and live simply. A new investigation into the habits of tiny house residents reveals that living in smaller houses encourages people to adopt more sustainable habits across the board. What are tiny houses? The unofficial definition of a tiny house is typically any single housing unit under 500 square feet. Many tiny houses are on wheels to get around state and federal government laws that limit the minimum habitable dwelling size. Because of this restriction, tiny house owners often own the transportable housing unit but not necessarily the land that it is on. Related: Is a tiny home right for you? The media and tiny house designers market the micro-dwellings as environmentally friendly alternatives to large family homes. Sellers encourage prospective buyers to downsize their possessions and kiss their mortgages goodbye in exchange for experiential riches like travel and financial freedom. Though they take up less space and store less junk, few studies exist that actually prove that living in tiny houses is more sustainable. Little house habits Maria Saxton, an environmental design and planning PhD candidate, studied the impact that downsizing into a tiny house had on inhabitants’ sustainable behaviors. She conducted surveys and in-depth interviews of 80 downsizers who had been living in their new tiny homes for at least a year. She calculated their individual ecological footprints before and after the move and examined which behaviors changed for the better and which changed for the worse. Her research discovered that on average, residents reduced their individual footprints by 45 percent after they settled into a tiny home, which is a huge reduction. She also found that the move and new lifestyle impacted other aspects and behaviors even without the inhabitants realizing it. Ecological footprint is usually calculated by determining the amount of land that it would take every year to support an individual’s consumption. The average American’s footprint is 8.4 hectares per person per year. That’s about the equivalent of eight football fields per person. Among those who downsized to tiny houses, the average footprint was approximately 3.87 hectares per person compared to a per-person average of 7 hectares before the move. How tiny houses encourage sustainable living Remarkably, housing-related behaviors and consumption patterns weren’t the only changes that the residents experienced. Of more than 100 individual behaviors examined, about 86 percent changed to become more environmentally friendly. For example, tiny house residents tended to shop and buy significantly less than the average American and less than they themselves did previously. Without room to store additional items, tiny house inhabitants simply could not support their old consumption habits. While 86 percent of behaviors changed for the better, about 13 percent changed for the worse. For example, tiny house residents tended to eat out more to avoid the frustration of cooking in a cramped kitchen. These residents recycled less because they had limited space for sorting and storing recyclable materials. They also tended to travel more, including both adventure trips and traveling further for basic items, likely because many tiny houses are located in more rural areas than where the owners previously lived. According to a separate investigation into the habits and motivations of tiny house dwellers, the majority of downsizers simply kept a storage unit. So, while they had fewer items within an arm’s reach, they hadn’t really committed to a minimalist lifestyle, and they could still support the overflow of their overconsumption. Smarter designs to support sustainability According to Saxton, the results of this study are critical for tiny house designers as well as to influence archaic laws that restrict tiny houses. If tiny house inhabitants truly do live more sustainably, towns and cities should be encouraging residents to make the move. Related: 7 tips for decorating a tiny home Architects and designers of the little abodes can also use the results of the research to integrate designs that address the prohibitive factors causing that 13 percent shift to less sustainable behaviors. For example — how can the kitchens be larger and more functional? How can trash and recycling storage be expanded to accommodate proper sorting of recyclable materials? Despite the tiny trend, housing is growing in size and destruction In 1973, the average house was 1,660 square feet, but by 2017, the average house sold was 2,631 square feet . This represents a 63 percent increase in the average size of a house in just 45 years. Although the tiny house trend skyrocketed among a niche corner of the population in over-industrialized countries, the majority of people still think bigger is better, which comes at a cost to the environment . The construction of oversized houses means loss of natural habitat and biodiversity , including the fragmentation of ecosystems to clear the way for new housing developments. In addition, the carbon footprint of the materials and construction industry is enormous. Commercial and residential buildings together contribute 39 percent of the U.S.’s total carbon emissions. This includes the transportation and sourcing of the building materials, the energy needed for construction and the environmental cost of maintenance. Maybe they are just another trend, but maybe tiny houses can be a small solution to global warming on an individual and community level. At the very least, the research concludes that cities and towns should re-examine existing laws that discourage tiny house dwellers from owning land or remove the wheels to at least allow residents to feel a sense of permanence. One town, Spur, Texas, adjusted its laws and sells itself as the first tiny home town in America. As the trend continues, other towns and cities would be wise to follow suit. Via The Conversation Images via Paul VanDerWerf , Christoph Scholz and Nicolás Boullosa ( 1 , 2 )

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Do people in tiny houses live more sustainably?

Energy-efficient greenhouses surround the new French Open tennis court

August 2, 2019 by  
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Plants from around the world are flourishing in four curved greenhouses in an unexpected place — directly behind the spectator stands of the new Simonne Mathieu tennis court at Roland-Garros, home of the French Open. Designed by the Paris-based studio Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés , the 5,000-seat sunken tennis court not only offers a strikingly modern space for the annual tournament but also offers a visual extension of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil botanical garden, where the stadium is located. The steel-and-glass greenhouses were built to reference the historical hothouses of the 19th century but feature a modern, energy-efficient design built to the highest technical specifications. Named after the famous tennis player who played at the Roland-Garros in the 1930s, the Simonne Mathieu tennis court is a new venue for hosting the international tennis championships hosted every year in Paris. Taking inspiration from Auteuil’s greenhouses designed by Jean Camille Formige in 1898, Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés introduced new public space around the partially sunken tennis court in the form of four modern, steel-and-glass greenhouses that are visible from the spectator stands. Related: Solar-powered aquaponic greenhouses grow up to 880 lbs of produce each year “These new greenhouses form a glass backdrop, a case within which plants from four continents can flourish,” the architects explained. “They refer to the design of the nearby hothouses and are inspired by, without imitating, architecture in metal that, since the construction of the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, still stands, with its delicate relationship between light and structure, as the perfect model of airiness and economy.” Sheathed in double-pane glass for superior insulation, these curved greenhouses feature flora from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania. A meandering paved pathway traverses each greenhouse. Because the greenhouses are a new addition of public space, they will be accessible to visitors throughout the year, even outside of the two-week French Open tournament. + Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés Via ArchDaily Photography by Erieta Attali via Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés

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Energy-efficient greenhouses surround the new French Open tennis court

Iceland will unveil monument for the first glacier lost to climate change

July 24, 2019 by  
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Scientists and local Icelanders will unveil a monument next month that memorializes the first glacier out of the country’s 400 glaciers to be lost to climate change. The Okjokull glacier, nicknamed “Ok”, no longer qualifies as a glacier, given that it is melting at a faster rate than it can expand. When this happens, glaciers become known as “dead ice”. Scientists in Iceland and Texas’ Rice University believe that this will be the fate of all Icelandic glaciers by year 2200— unless the world takes drastic action to curb climate change . “By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire. These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere. They are also often important cultural forms that are full of significance,” said Cymene Howe, a professor at Rice University. Related:Earliest human air pollution detected in glaciers The unveiling celebration will be held on August 18 and attended by scientists, locals, media and Hiking Society members. Just 100 years ago, the glacier covered nearly six square miles and was over 150 feet thick. The plaque, located at a site where the glacier once covered, will read: “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.” The plaque is in both Icelandic and English. The plaque also monumentalizes the current count of carbon parts per million in the atmosphere, which reaches a record breaking 415 parts per million in May. “An Icelandic colleague said: ‘Memorials are not for the dead; they are for the living,’” Howe said. “We want to underscore that it is up to us, the living, to respond to the rapid loss of glaciers and the ongoing impacts of climate change. For Ok glacier it is already too late.” The Guardian Image via RICE University

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Iceland will unveil monument for the first glacier lost to climate change

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