Whats causing the decline in monarch butterfly populations?

March 27, 2020 by  
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Monarch butterflies  are amongst North America’s majestic wildlife. They fascinate with their vibrant allure and migratory prowess. Yet these beauties are under serious threat, as evidenced by drastic population reduction throughout North America. What factors are causing monarch butterfly numbers to dwindle? Habitat loss For monarchs,  habitat  entails food, water and shelter, says the  National Wildlife Federation (NWF)  and the  World Wildlife Fund (WWF) . Specific to monarchs is their habitat corridor, a trek of thousands of miles from Central America’s warm regions, where they overwinter, to areas across the United States and southern Canada, where they stay for spring and summer.  In recent decades, population surveys reveal monarchs declining because of  deforestation  in Mexico, loss of grasslands in the Great Plains’ Corn Belt — which the  Center for Biological Diversity  calls “the heart of the monarch’s range” — and loss of native milkweed plants in the U.S. Such habitat losses negatively impact monarch populations as they breed, migrate and overwinter.   Habitat loss  stems mainly from the deforestation of overwintering areas,  climate change ‘s fluctuating weather patterns, developmental sprawl, plus the conversion of U.S. grasslands into ranches and farmlands. This conversion to farmland for corn and soy has spurred the Center for Biological Diversity’s admonishment against the overuse of  herbicides . These harmful chemicals poison a key player in monarch habitats, their host plant, the milkweed.  Problems with milkweed Milkweed is vital to monarchs. They are host plants, upon which females lay eggs. Once hatched, caterpillars enjoy milkweed as a food source while they grow and develop into adulthood, a process that happens in the first month of a monarch’s lifespan. And, as adults, the  butterflies  feed on milkweed nectar. Several generations of offspring spawn on milkweed during spring and summer months before migration to overwintering sites even begins. According to the NWF, “Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, the only host plant for this iconic butterfly species. As such, milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs. Without it, they cannot complete their life cycle and their  populations  decline.” Interestingly, milkweed has the toxin cardenolide, which accumulates in caterpillars feeding on milkweed . When these caterpillars become adults, the cardenolides remain, protecting them from predation. Birds and predators veer away, signaled off by the toxin’s presence in the monarchs’ bright wings. Unfortunately, milkweed loss is increasing in the destabilized landscape. Milkweed has lost considerable ground to urbanization, shifting land management practices, climate change and even herbicide misuse, like that of Roundup.  Alarming still are reports by  Science  magazine and  Entomology Today  that well-meaning gardeners have been planting the wrong species of milkweed. There are over 100 milkweed species, and not all are good for monarchs. Sadly, the tropical milkweed species  Asclepias curassavica  is heavily marketed because it is easier to obtain. But this invasive species is not well-suited for monarchs, yet remains the species good-intentioned gardeners are planting rather than the native milkweed species the monarchs are better adapted to. This invasive milkweed is now recognized by the  Ecological Society of America  as an ecological trap for monarch butterflies.     What dangers do these “wrong” species of milkweed pose for monarchs? For one, they harbor parasites, such as the protozoan parasite  Ophryocystis elektroscirrha  (OE), that are harmful to the monarch butterfly. These parasites debilitate monarchs, weakening them via “wing deformities, smaller body size, reduced flight performance, and shorter adult lifespans,” Entomology Today explained. Should these issues with milkweed persist unmitigated, their repercussions would continue to exacerbate the monarch butterfly population crisis.    Pesticide, insecticide and fungicide misuse While media attention has spotlighted herbicides as a culprit, equally important is the fact that monarch butterflies are also vulnerable to  pesticides ,  neonicotinoid  insecticides and fungicides. For instance, a Purdue University Department of Entomology  study , published last summer 2019 in  Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution , revealed that non-target pesticides, insecticides and fungicides have wreaked havoc on monarch butterflies, even at their larval stage. As the study elucidated, “agricultural intensification and a corresponding rise in pesticide use has been an  environmental  concern” that adversely affects beneficial  pollinators , like the monarch butterfly. Exposure to these pesticides, insecticides and fungicides, can be from “direct contact with contaminated surfaces or spray droplets, residues remaining on the soil, and consumption via food resources such as leaves, nectar or pollen.” Just as vexing are pesticides, insecticides and fungicides “applied by aircraft.” The study emphasized the “evidence of lower abundance and/or diversity of butterflies.” Climate change The  WWF  affirms that “monarchs are highly sensitive to  weather  and climate. They depend on environmental cues (temperature in particular) to trigger reproduction, migration, and hibernation.” Their decline is also attributed to “the effects of an increasing frequency of extreme weather events such as drought and severe storms, and extremes in hot and cold temperatures.” No wonder then that the  Environmental Defense Fund ‘s Director of Conservation Studies, David Wolfe, has lamented that “The iconic and beloved North American monarch butterfly is one of the species that has difficulty adjusting to our new climate-stressed world. Its population has declined 95 percent in the last 20 years Yet another way  climate  change adversely affects monarch butterflies is by disrupting their migration. These butterflies can travel between 50 and 100 miles a day, but when extreme weather sets in during  migration , the entire cluster or roost is vulnerable.  “Every year, a new generation of these butterflies follows the same path forged by generations before them. The only thing guiding them on this migration is temperature telling them when they need to travel – like a biological trigger setting them in flight,” Wolfe explained. “But in recent years, the monarch’s fall south migration from Canada has been delayed by as much as six weeks due to warmer-than-normal temperatures that failed to trigger the butterflies’ instincts to move south. By the time the temperature cooled enough to trigger the migration, it’s been too cold in the Midwest and many monarchs died on their trip south.” Even more worrisome, the  Xerces Society , a nonprofit environmental group focused on invertebrates, has reported that warmer temperatures from climate change increase the toxicity of tropical milkweed by increasing cardenolide concentrations. Monarch caterpillars are only tolerant up to a threshold.  EcoWatch  explained, “warmer temperatures increase the cardenolides in  A. curassavica  [the tropical milkweed species] to the point where they poison monarch larvae, delaying larval growth and stunting adult forewings. Native milkweed is not similarly impacted.” Hence, as  invasive  milkweed persists, they further harm monarch populations as temperatures rise in our current  climate crisis .  Diseases, parasites and fungal pathogens Emory University  emphasizes that climate change affects pathogen development, parasite survival rates, disease transmission processes. What would monarch populations be susceptible to? Bacterial and viral infections — like bacillus thuringiensis (BT), pseudomonas, the nuclear polyhedrosis virus (NPV) — are not unheard of, often turning an infected caterpillar or chrysalis into a darkened or black hue. Parasite attacks can come from tachinid flies or wasps (chalcid, trichogramma). Plus, fungal pathogens in the genus  Cordyceps  also attack. Each of these factors cause harm to monarch butterfly populations.

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Whats causing the decline in monarch butterfly populations?

Corporate renewable energy in the age of COVID-19

March 27, 2020 by  
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Corporations have been driving the uptake of renewables across the United States for years. Hundreds of companies have made voluntary commitments to transition to 100 percent clean energy, and companies of all sizes have spearheaded renewable procurement deals, adding clean energy capacity to the grid. 

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Corporate renewable energy in the age of COVID-19

Border wall could end jaguar recovery

March 25, 2020 by  
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The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it will waive many public health and environmental laws to fast-track border wall construction in remote, mountainous areas of California, Texas and Arizona. The new sections of the border wall will block the remaining corridors that connect jaguars from the U.S. to Sonora, Mexico. The wall will also harm more than 90 other threatened and endangered species . “The new border walls will mean the end of jaguar recovery in the United States,” Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said . “This tragedy’s all the more heartbreaking because walling off these beautiful wildlands is completely unnecessary and futile. It has nothing to do with border security and everything to do to with Trump’s racist campaign promise.” Related: $87M wildlife bridge in California will be a haven for mountain lions Jaguars are shy animals that mostly move around at night over highland trails. Conservationists worry that blocking border access will halt the jaguars’ ability to repopulate the Peloncillo Mountains east of Douglas, Arizona and that jaguars fleeing human encroachment in northern Mexico will have nowhere to go. Other threatened, endangered and rare species that call the border region home include the lesser long-nosed bat, Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican gray wolf, ocelot and the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. The more than 650 miles of barriers currently blocking the border disrupt animal migration, cause flooding and decimate these animals’ fragile ecosystems . Jaguars are found from the southwestern U.S. down to south-central Argentina. This mammal is the most powerful and largest cat in the western hemisphere and one of four big cats of the Panthera genus. The other three are lions, leopards and tigers . “Jaguars are a key part of the stunningly diverse web of life in the borderlands that will fall apart if these walls are built,” Serraglio said. “The crisis of runaway extinction is devastating wildlife and wild places all over our planet. Trump’s border wall is pouring gas on that fire, and we’ll continue to fight it every step of the way.” The Center for Biological Diversity has helped launch a campaign to oppose the border wall. Individuals can sign the nonprofit conservation organization’s pledge to oppose the wall here . + Center for Biological Diversity Images via Center for Biological Diversity and Pixabay

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Border wall could end jaguar recovery

Are these zero-carbon domes the future of sustainable housing?

March 20, 2020 by  
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When design and architecture start-up Geoship met its $100,000 equity crowdfunding goal in just five days in January 2020, founder and CEO Morgan Bierschenk knew the fledgling company had something special on its hands. The product? Sustainable, affordable housing in the form of unique geodesic domes that are also zero-carbon. Geoship built its first prototype dome in 2015, and in 2019, it partnered with Zappos in an effort to address the homelessness crisis in downtown Las Vegas, where the company is headquartered. The partnership has since created a scalable model of villages specifically aimed at helping to eliminate homelessness in the United States by 2030. Related: Create your own backyard geodesic dome with these super affordable DIY kits So what makes these domes so special? A 100% bioceramic material combined with basalt and hemp fiber (similar to bone and shells) is used to construct the framing, insulation and panels to provide an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional building materials. This ceramic composite is designed to withstand extreme temperatures, making it fireproof up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. The dome shape distributes pressure evenly throughout the structure, a feature that makes it both earthquake- and hurricane-proof, according to Geoship. Additionally, the material doesn’t attract mold or insects and won’t rust, rot or deteriorate. The minerals used to create the bioceramic can be harvested from sustainable, natural resources, such as seawater desalination plants and non-toxic sewage treatment plants. Old material can either be turned into new panels or used as fertilizer. Currently, estimated turnkey prices for the domes range from $45,000 to $230,000, depending on the size. The price includes everything from delivery, permitting, installation, mechanical systems, interior finishing, appliances and materials for passive solar heating and cooling. Geoship is unique in that it is structured as a “Social Purpose Corporation,” a multi-stakeholder cooperative where customers will be major owners in the company in addition to the investors and employees, a model that Bierschenk believes consumers were all too ready for. “Old school capitalism makes rich people richer, and everybody defers responsibility, while our planet pays the price,” Bierschenk said. “We’re shifting that paradigm by making our seed investment widely accessible, and distributing equity to customers and the Earth.” + Geoship Images via Geoship

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Are these zero-carbon domes the future of sustainable housing?

Discarded face masks now threatening wildlife habitats

March 16, 2020 by  
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The worldwide outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) prompted many to purchase face masks for protection. Unfortunately, these protective masks have been harming the environment. Why is that? The masks are made of the plastic polypropylene, which is not easily biodegradable. No surprise then that the accumulation of discarded face masks litters the environment and poses serious risks to the equilibrium of  habitats  and the health of wildlife, especially marine organisms. Environmental groups are now sounding the alarm on how cast-off coronavirus masks are escalating the  litter  and plastic pollution predicaments. Related:  The Ocean Cleanup has first success collecting plastic from Great Pacific Garbage Patch “We only have had masks for the last six to eight weeks, in a massive volume…we are now seeing the effect on the environment,” explained Gary Stokes, founder of Oceans Asia, a marine  conservation  organization. Stokes elaborated with the example of the Soko Islands off Hong Kong. On one 100-meter stretch of beach, Stokes discovered 70 masks, then an additional 30 the following week.  Hong Kong’s dense population means that its citizens have struggled with plastic waste.  Single-use plastic  makes matters more challenging. What’s more, Hong Kong does not effectively  recycle  all its waste. Instead, roughly 70% of its garbage ends up in landfills. That 70% is equivalent to approximately 6 million tons of refuse. Conservationists have been attempting to remove these masks from the environment through beach clean-ups. “Nobody wants to go to the forest and find masks littered everywhere or used masks on the beaches . It is unhygienic and dangerous,” added Laurence McCook, head of Oceans Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong. Jerome Adams, the United States Surgeon General, has also  advised people to stop purchasing medical face masks , as they are ineffective at preventing COVID-19. Scaling back public purchasing of the masks would not only keep more masks available for medical professionals, but could also reduce the amount being discarded and its impact on the environment. Via Reuters Images via Pixabay

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Discarded face masks now threatening wildlife habitats

LastTissue offers a handkerchief for the modern world

March 11, 2020 by  
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LastObject, the company that brought you the  reusable  cotton swab LastSwab , is now offering consumers a more sustainable option when it comes to blowing their noses. The  Kickstarter  for the “modern handkerchief” LastTissue ends on March 12, 2020, and has already eclipsed its goal by over $700,000. The starter kit comes with three cases and 18 reusable tissues for $39 on Kickstarter. “It’s like if a handkerchief and a tissue pack had a baby,” said the company. The main storage case is made of  silicone , with an upper chamber to stuff the used tissues inside, room to store six organic cotton tissues and a lower slot to pull the clean tissues out. There is a barrier between the used and new tissues to maintain cleanliness and the kit comes with a specially marked tissue to place at the top of the pack to easily indicate when you’ve reached the last one. After washing, the tissues can be packed back into the silicone case for  reuse . Related: “Family cloths” reusable toilet wipes: gross or great? As for why the LastTissue is better than traditional tissues, the team at LastObject cites the  environmentally-damaging  aspects of the paper industry. According to the company, the paper/pulp industry is the third-largest industrial emitter of global warming gasses. What’s more, about 8,000,000 trees are cut down to make facial tissues each year for the United States alone. Each pack is designed to last for at least 2,800 wipes, saving the same number of paper tissues as well as the  plastic  packaging that they come in. The LastTissue tissues are made using organic cotton fabric, making it softer than traditional handkerchiefs and friendlier for your face.  The silicone cases come in different colors, each one representing a species that is endangered due to deforestation , Raccoon Blue, Dragonfly Turquoise, Fox Peach, Palm Green, Redwood Red and Bat Black. + Last Tissue

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LastTissue offers a handkerchief for the modern world

Ceres CEO and President Mindy Lubber on crossing the sustainability-investor chasm

February 29, 2020 by  
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2019 saw an unprecedented growth in interest in and consideration for ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues from companies, investors and now government, with the first congressional hearing on ESG issues in the United States held in July. This trend signals a growing recognition that climate change is not only detrimental to our environment, but also to our economic system, and that many issues that were once considered non-financial are now seen as financially material.

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Ceres CEO and President Mindy Lubber on crossing the sustainability-investor chasm

Washington moves to ban "detrimental" bottled water operations

February 26, 2020 by  
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Washington state, known for mountains, glaciers and rainforests, has an abundance of fresh water. To protect those natural resources , the state senate has passed a bill that will ban any new water bottling permits. Bill SB 6278, “An act relating to water withdrawals for commercial bottled water production; and amending RCW 90.03.290” was approved by the senate on February 17 and is currently progressing through the house. The bill will take effect retroactively to any applications as of January 1, 2019, effectively banning any new bottling operations in the state. Related: Arsenic found in bottled water sold at major retailers For definition, bottled water is clearly defined as any water labeled or marketed for sale as water in any type of container. Spring water or enhanced water is also included in the ban; however, it does not include products made from water that are not marketed as water. The state also included a clause stating that the limitation does not apply to municipal water suppliers or in the case of a state of emergency, drought or public health emergency — an argument from representatives of the bottled water industry. According to the bill, “the commercial production of bottled water is deemed to be detrimental to the public welfare and the public interest.” With water campaigners promoting the notion that private companies should not profit from public resources, the Washington senate was moved into action. Harvesting the water allows the industry to deplete a natural resource, put it in a plastic bottle and ship it out of state, all while collecting water for almost nothing and seeing exorbitant profits. With water being the No. 1 bottled drink in the United States, the production is bound to have consequences at the source, and there have been several instances of groundwater pollution as well as arsenic being diverted to water treatment plants without notifications regarding the toxins. Washington will be the first state in the nation to enact such a ban, but other states have similar legislation in the works, including Maine and Michigan introducing state bills and both Oregon and Montana recently passing ballot measures. + Washington State Legislature Via The Guardian Images via Pixabay

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Washington moves to ban "detrimental" bottled water operations

Designer Dana Cohen creates unique, recycled fabric garments

February 24, 2020 by  
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It’s no secret that the United States wastes millions of tons of textiles every year. From fast fashion to unsustainable production to consumers simply choosing to throw out clothes instead of donating them, the environmental costs of fabric waste is starting to add up — and fast. A 2015 graduate of the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, Dana Cohen is choosing ecological design methods and making waves in the sustainable fashion industry. Cohen’s first award-winning collection, Worn Again, was developed in 2015 using recycled materials. By taking discarded fabrics and shredding them into smaller monochromatic fibers, Cohen was able to create new felted textiles out of scraps that would usually be taken to the landfill. After the process was complete, the designer was left with a completely unique knit boasting a combination of colors and patterns produced by the different original fabrics. Related: The sustainable wardrobe — it’s more accessible than you think The process to create these eco-textiles combines machinery and hand work to help give each piece a one-of-a-kind look. The felting process also leaves the material extremely soft and durable. The Worn Again collection won both the Fini Leitersdorf Excellence Award for Creativity and Originality in Fashion and the Rozen Award for Design and Sustainable Technologies in 2015. In 2018, Cohen revealed the City Growth collection, which was featured in Tel Aviv Fashion Week and Vietnam International Fashion Week that same year. The collection was inspired by global urban development and the diminution of agriculture by city growth, something Cohen had seen first-hand as the daughter of a farmer. Unsurprisingly, the collection went on to also earn awards, including the Israeli Lottery Company Fashion Design Award, the “Mifal Hapais.” In 2019, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem displayed the City Grown collection as part of an exhibition on fashion statements. The designer’s mission is to help people feel good inside and out by providing exclusive and beautiful garments that have a positive impact on society while still maintaining style. Cohen’s inspirational designs prove that recycled products can be just as fashionable (if not more) than traditional clothing items. + Dana Cohen Photography by Rafi Deloya, Rotem Lebel and Ron Kedmi via Dana Cohen

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Designer Dana Cohen creates unique, recycled fabric garments

Inside Bill Weihl’s quest to give employees and job seekers a ‘ClimateVoice’

February 24, 2020 by  
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A new initiative aims to press companies to have a strong and active voice on climate policy in the United States. Your company and its campus recruiters just may be a target.

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