7 biggest threats to the environment – why we still need Earth Day

April 18, 2017 by  
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This Saturday is Earth Day , and while it’s a time to celebrate our planet, it’s also a prime opportunity to take a closer look at the serious environmental issues we’re facing and the solutions that need to be put in place to alleviate them. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore the damage we’ve done to the environment, especially when the effects have been hitting so close to home . If you want to make this Earth Day an opportunity to educate yourself about the problems, read on as we break down the 7 biggest environmental threats facing our society right now and how we might be able to solve them before it’s too late. Climate Change Climate change is first and foremost an issue because people can’t even agree on whether or not it’s an issue in the first place. Before we even get into the solutions, we all (regardless of political party) need to come to the realization that yes, climate change is real and yes, it is affecting us in ways that we can see and feel.  If you still believe that the freakish weather and heat waves we’ve been experiencing have nothing to do with climate change, you might want to ask your neighbor what he or she thinks because the majority of Americans say they believe global warming is causing these incidents . You might have noticed that the weather’s been hotter than usual , or you might have noticed a drought in your area or conversely, unusual storms. Furthermore, even small temperature changes are causing crops to die, decreasing the amount of food available. On top of all that, higher temps are causing the polar icecaps to melt, flooding certain areas and leading to an imbalance for wildlife. So we know the threat is real, but what can we do to prevent climate change from being exacerbated even more? Some small steps you can take in your own life are to use less electricity by turning off your lights when you don’t need them, driving less, switching to LED bulbs and eating less meat . On a more global scale, leaders have come to an agreement on how to curb the harmful greenhouse gases each nation emits into the atmosphere, and steps are being taken to plant more forests (which act as natural carbon sinks). Every bit helps, but in order for us to reverse the current course the Earth is on, the United States needs to commit to the Paris Agreement  and, along with the rest of the world, work towards a greener planet. Deforestation We mentioned planting more forests above, and sadly at a time when we need more forests, trees are being uprooted at an alarming rate.  Deforestation is a rapidly-growing problem in areas like Africa, Central and South America. Not only does this mean less trees, less cleansing oxygen, and the displacement of the wildlife, deforestation means a dangerous decrease in a natural fighter of global warming – the #1 threat to our Earth right now. Removing trees also leads to much drier climates, as trees extract groundwater to release into the air. Our tropical rainforests, which are crucial to stabilizing the climate and to human survival, are being chopped down at a breakneck pace – one and a half acres of rainforest are lost every second . Humans have already chopped down about 50% of the rainforests that once existed on the planet and at the current rate of destruction, we will completely destroy the rainsforests in the next 40 years . If rainforests are so important, why are they being destroyed so carelessly? Short-sighted governments and multi-national logging companies only see the forests as a way to make money by selling timber – they don’t consider the long-term effects . Luckily, deforestation is an issue that we as individuals can combat. By using recycled paper, we can decrease the need to cut down as many trees and by buying goods made with FSC-certified wood, we can show retailers that we don’t want them to support brands that obtain lumber irresponsibly. Last but not least, why not plant a tree or even a hundred trees like this man did . Pollution Pollution comes in many forms and no matter where you live, you’ve probably seen some form of it. From litter on NYC city streets to the smog that lingers over LA to the plastic trash that floats in the  Great Pacific Garbage Patch , the visible signs of pollution are more than evident. The main reason for why pollution has gotten so out of control is that our desire for more “stuff”  has led to our old stuff being thrown away at an alarming and unnecessary rate. For more information on this, watch Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff . This need for manufactured items also leads to the air and water pollution emitted from factories, which in many countries are highly unregulated. Looking at the bigger picture, government oversight and sloppy industrial practices on the part of big companies has also exacerbated our pollution problem. The first thing we can all do to reduce the amount of pollution in our streets, air and water is to make a mental change. Before buying a new product, ask yourself if you really need it or if you might be able to purchase it secondhand. It could make a big difference in the amount of trash we see in our landfills. Secondly, if you don’t already  recycle , get into the habit. If everyone adopted these easy principles, the world would be in a much better place. Loss of Biodiversity Each species has a role in our planet, and when one dies out, it can have catastrophic effects on the rest of us. We don’t want to get all “Butterfly Effect” on you but even a population dwindling can cause major problems for the human race. For example, with their role of pollination , the decline of the  bee population has a direct effect on both the environment and food production. Currently, many other animals are in danger of becoming extinct, either from being forced out of their habitats by man or by climate change. This particular problem is more difficult for individuals to combat but we can start by educating ourselves with the facts and donating to organizations like the World Wildlife Fund that facilitate the preservation of animals on the brink of extinction. This problem is also closely linked to deforestation and unchecked habitat destruction so by fighting those two issues, we can also slow down loss of biodiversity. Melting Polar Ice-Caps and Rising Sea Levels Climate change (are you seeing a trend here?) also contributes to another dangerous problem – melting polar ice-caps, which in turn causes rising sea levels. According to the NRCD , average temperatures in the Arctic region are rising twice as fast they are elsewhere and the ice is melting and rupturing. NASA satellite images reveal that the area of our permanent ice cover is shrinking at a rate of 9% every decade. At that rate, the Arctic could be totally ice-free in the summer season within decades. And if all of that ice melted, where would it go? You guessed it – our oceans. You might think that rising tides are only a problem for people in a few isolated areas, but major cities like NY and London could be underwater soon if we don’t do something soon. Manhattan alone has already dreamt up ways to deal with the potential rising tides over the next few years, but coming up with solutions after the fact is not enough. In order to reverse the melting of polar icecaps, we have to start at the root of the problem. See our section above on climate change to learn what you can do personally to keep global warming from continuing on its deadly course. Oceanic Dead Zones Along the coasts of heavily populated communities, scientists have found more and more dead zones – areas where depleted oxygen levels cannot support marine life. 146 dead zones were found in the world’s oceans, caused by high levels of chemicals in the waters. North America’s Gulf Coast has a high concentration of dead zones, which causes fish to become unable to reproduce. You might think that if you live on land, you won’t be affected by oceanic dead zones but if you eat seafood, seaweed, or care about air quality, you won’t want to ignore this issue. The good news is that dead zones can be reversed, though it is difficult. The  Black Sea dead zone disappeared in 1991 and 2001 due to the discontinued use of fertilizers. To find out more about how you can help with dead zone cleanups, visit Oceana.org . Explosive Population Growth It’s usually true that the more the merrier, but not when the human population is growing to a point that our society and systems can’t handle. Last year, the world population hit a whopping 7 billion , and while we welcome the newcomers with open arms, we also want to make sure that we don’t continue to put a strain on our water, food, well-being, space and sanity (yes, we’re talking about you, Tokyo subway system ). If everyone were more conscious of the fact that our limited resources need to be shared (how many times have you grabbed a fistful of paper napkins when you only needed one?), we could make living together, even with such a large amount of people) a lot more pleasant. Another example is our world food supply. Statistics show that we have enough food to feed everyone on the planet but we end up wasting so much (according to the  National Resources Defense Council , Americans waste a whopping 30 to 50% of all food produced) that others go without. While we might not be able to stop the population from growing, we can educate the people who currently live here and the new ones that are being born to make smarter choices and consume more responsibly. Images from Wikimedia Commons, Shutterstock, © James Cridland , @ Kevin Crejci , and @ No Minds Vision    

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The biggest artwork in Europe "recharges" an Italian mountain with new trees

February 22, 2017 by  
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Spanish artist Escif is on an eco art mission to reforest Southern Italy’s Mount Olivella, which due to  massive deforestation centuries ago, is causing hydrogeological instability in the region today. The artist’s impressive environmental art intervention, Breath – Time to Recharge includes an image of a tree battery on the bald face of the mountain, which will slowly “recharge” thanks to the planting of 5,000 new indigenous trees, creating what’s being called Europe’s largest artwork. https://vimeo.com/203920760 Located in Sapri, Southern Italy, Mount Olivella was partly deforested in the 1700s, which has created a hydrogeological instability of the region. This instability is most likely to blame for climate-related problems such as flooding in the surrounding areas. Related: Irish town plans to plant world’s largest giant redwood grove The Breath project, designed by Escif and curated by Antonio Oriente and Incipit , includes planting 2,500 Holm Oaks and 2,500 Maples on the mountain’s bald face within the battery image. All in all, the art piece will cover a surface of 120,000 square meters – almost the size of 17 football fields. The first phase of the tree planting is scheduled for September 2017. Over time, locals will be able to see the battery image slowly “recharging”. More trees will be planted in 2019 in order to fully recharge the tree battery and restore the mountain back to its green glory. The project is currently running an Indiegogo campaign for support, and funds from an upcoming concert by Damien Rice on May 19th will also go towards the project. + Escif + Breath Project

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Bangladesh is planting 1 million palm trees to reduce lightning fatalities

January 24, 2017 by  
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Over 200 people died in Bangladesh in 2016 because of lightning strikes, according to official tallies. In an effort to reduce lightning fatalities, the Bangladesh government is turning to nature . They aim to plant one million palm trees to absorb lightning damage and save lives. In 2016 alone, lightning could have killed as many as 349 people, according to one independent monitor. That number is so much higher than the official tally because people residing in rural areas sometimes don’t report a death to police. 82 people died from the phenomenon on just one day in May, and the government ultimately described lightning as a natural disaster in 2016. They hope to combat the issue with multiple measures, the first of which could be tree-planting . Related: Labyrinthine resort in Bangladesh lets nature take over Disaster management secretary Shah Kamal told AFP, “We’ve already started planting palm trees in rural areas in an effort to reduce the number of deaths due to lightning. We’ll plant one million palm trees by June this year.” A similar program already appears to be successful in Thailand. Although lightning can damage trees, their presence will prevent electric charges from coursing through the ground. Deforestation may have played a role in the deaths. Experts have said so many fatalities occurred partly because there weren’t enough trees whose branches would be able to absorb lightning strikes. Bangladesh Meteorological Department former head Shah Alam told AFP lightning strikes have increased in rural areas devastated by increased deforestation, as farmers have cut trees down to cultivate rice and other crops. It may take a while for the tree planting program in Bangladesh to produce results, but it’s still worth pursuing, according to Alam, who said, “Palm trees take years to grow. But definitely, this is a good move by the government. It will reduce deaths.” Via Phys.org Images via Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons

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Kengo Kuma unveils blossoming glass and timber villas for Bali

January 24, 2017 by  
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From Ibuku’s gorgeous bamboo structures to D-Associates’wood and brick DRA House , Bali’s contemporary architecture strikes a delicate balance between contemporary and vernacular design. Among the most recent projects planned to be built on this Indonesian island is a cluster of six unique villas, a yoga pavilion and a greenhouse designed by Kengo Kuma . The 215,000-square-foot project named Tsubomi Villas, or “flower bud” in Japanese, will include six villas enveloped in overlapping layers of wood that form hyperbolic paraboloid roof canopies . The buildings, planned to be built on a sandstone cliff on the Bukit Peninsula, the southernmost point of Bali , look like they emerge from the ground like flowers. Related: Kengo Kuma unveils plans for spiraling timber-clad library in Sydney The Tsubomi Villas combine glass and timber to provide a feeling of openness and tranquility. The design blurs the line between interior spaces and the surrounding landscape, inviting the lush forest inside. + Kengo Kuma & Associates Via Architizer

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Plant and geotag free pine and cedar seeds with the "Notes on a Tree" project

May 19, 2016 by  
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On May 28, Beirut-based firm 109 Architectes will unveil “Notes on a Tree” at the 2016 Venice Biennale of Architecture . The interactive installation is part of the GAA Foundation’s annual “Time – Space – Existence” exhibition and will commemorate Lebanon’s lost public spaces. “Notes on a Tree” tackles the role of the architect in countries like Lebanon , where developers often dictate urban planning. The firm uses its own projects as examples of successes and disappointments in preserving public space, which is symbolized by specific trees. Some trees were saved and some were lost, but each one represents a community’s history and collective memory. The installation is a response to a call from Alejandro Aravenas, director of this year’s Biennale, who said, “[ Venice Biennale ] will present cases and practices where creativity was used to take the risk to go even for a tiny victory, because when the problem is big, just a one-millimeter improvement is relevant.” Guests at the exhibition will be offered cedar and pine seeds and invited to plant them anywhere in the world. They will then be asked to visit notesonatree.com and pin their tree’s location on a map. The map will be projected in real-time back to the installation at the Venice Biennale, along with a live feed of social media posts tagged #notesonatree. 109 Architectes will use the level of visitor interaction to gauge the question that sparked the project: “How important is a tree?” In keeping with an eco-conscious approach, the exhibit will produce minimal waste and nearly all material is recycled, recyclable or reusable. If you are interested in participating, please send a message to info@109architectes.com to request your seed. “Notes on a Tree” will run until November 27, 2016 at Palazzo Bembo, second Floor, San Marco, Riva del Carbon 4793, 30124 Venice, Italy. + Notes on a Tree + 109 Architectes The article above was submitted to us by an Inhabitat reader. Want to see your story on Inhabitat ? Send us a tip by following this link . Remember to follow our instructions carefully to boost your chances of being chosen for publishing!

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Portugal powered by 100% renewable energy for over four days

May 19, 2016 by  
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An exciting renewable energy feat in Europe shows us just what a sustainable energy future will look like – and that future is not too far away. From May 7 to May 11, Portugal was powered entirely by renewable sources. During the 107 hours of 100 percent renewable energy , the country drew on hydropower, wind power, biofuels, and solar to make this green electricity dream a reality. How did they make it work? According to the WorldWatch Institute , progressive policies played a large role . Feed-in tariffs, or guaranteed prices for renewable producers, and paying host municipalities combined to help make renewable energy cost effective. Further, the government has taken steps like altering grid infrastructure to connect easier to home solar panels. The International Energy Agency said the country’s policies have enabled them ” to become a major player in the application of renewable energies .” Related: Germany generated so much renewable energy last weekend electric prices went negative Portugal has been working towards developing renewable energy in their country for several years. Back between 2004 and 2009, according to WorldWatch , their “installed renewable energy capacity more than tripled.” Despite a GDP less than the EU average, Portugal’s generation and overall energy consumption of renewable energy is higher than most European countries. In 2014, they were behind only Austria, Sweden, Iceland, and Norway in terms of generating electricity from renewable energy. The Portuguese Renewable Energy Association said in 2015 a combination of renewable sources provided 48 percent of the country’s electricity . The Christian Science Monitor reports that currently, hydropower generates 30 percent of Portugal’s electricity. About 25 percent comes from wind. Biofuels and solar play smaller roles, contributing 6.4 percent and 1.2 percent respectively to the mix. This isn’t the first renewable energy achievement for Portugal; back in 2011 they powered the country entirely by renewable energy for a couple of hours, but the recent feat marks the great strides they’ve taken towards supplying electricity using more clean sources. Via The Christian Science Monitor Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Meet the baby whose birth was celebrated with 108,000 trees

March 17, 2016 by  
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Trees are often planted to give back to the planet and the people who live on it. In Bhutan, local residents planted not one but 108,000 trees to celebrate the arrival of their new crown prince. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema announced the birth of their first child, a son, in early February and one month later volunteers planted the incredible amount of trees. Read the rest of Meet the baby whose birth was celebrated with 108,000 trees

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South African insurance company backs tree-planting effort to reduce effects of drought

December 23, 2015 by  
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Insurance companies are typically a fairly passive partner in disaster, showing up only when things have gone horribly wrong. The largest agricultural insurer in South Africa has broken the mold by backing a massive effort to slow the effects of drought , which threatens farmlands in the small country. Planting millions of trees has helped to reduce land degradation and ward off desertification, and the initiative could even lead to increased water supplies in communities that have lived under water restrictions for nearly a decade. Read the rest of South African insurance company backs tree-planting effort to reduce effects of drought

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Tranquil timber cabins and a bamboo grove surround a hot spring hotel near Beijing

December 23, 2015 by  
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What’s the Carbon Footprint of Your Favorite Food or Activity?

July 30, 2014 by  
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Did you know that the carbon footprint of a diamond necklace is the same as that of drinking 1,333 pints of beer? Or that a mile traveled by a subway train has the same carbon footprint of 3 teapots boiled by gas energy? These fun snippets of information can be discovered on Carbonize , a new web app developed by eCO2 Greetings that lets you compare the carbon footprints of over one hundred popular items. In addition to helping people see the effects of their actions on the planet, eCO2 Greetings also promises that they will plant one tree with American Forests’ Global Re-leaf Campaign for every 100 social shares of a #CarbonizeFACT. + Carbonize The article above was submitted to us by an Inhabitat reader. Want to see your story on Inhabitat ? Send us a tip by following this link . Remember to follow our instructions carefully to boost your chances of being chosen for publishing! Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: american forests global re-leaf campaign , carbon footprint , carbon footprint app , carbon footprint comparison , carbonize , carbonizefact , eCO2 greetings , measuring carbon footprint , reader submitted content , tree planting

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