The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis

August 3, 2020 by  
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The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis Maddie Stone Mon, 08/03/2020 – 01:00 This story originally appeared in Grist and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story. One of the starkest inequalities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic is the difference between the digital haves and have-nots. Those with a fast internet connection are more able to work and learn remotely, stay in touch with loved ones and access critical services such as telemedicine. For the millions of Americans who live in an internet dead zone , fully participating in society in the age of social distancing has become difficult, if not impossible. But if the pandemic has laid bare America’s so-called “digital divide,” climate change will only worsen the inequality that stems from it. As the weather grows more extreme and unpredictable, wealthy urban communities with faster, more reliable internet access will have an easier time responding to and recovering from disasters, while rural and low-income Americans — already especially vulnerable to the impacts of a warming climate — could be left in the dark. Unless, that is, we can bring everyone’s internet up to speed, which is what Democratic lawmakers on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis are hoping to do. Buried in a sweeping, 538-page climate change plan the committee released last month is a call to expand and modernize the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure in order to prepare it, and vulnerable communities around the country, for future extreme weather events and climate disruptions. The plan calls for increasing broadband internet access nationwide with the goal of getting everyone connected, updating the country’s 911 emergency call systems and ensuring cellular communications providers are able to keep their networks up and running amid hurricane-force winds and raging wildfires. This plan isn’t the first to point out that America’s internet infrastructure is in dire need of an upgrade , but it is unusual to see lawmakers frame better internet access as an important step toward building climate resilience. While the internet is often described as a great equalizer, access to the web never has been equal.   To Jim Kessler , executive vice president for policy at the moderate public policy think tank Third Way, this framing makes perfect sense. “You’ve got to build resilience into communities but also people,” Kessler said. “And you can’t do this without people having broadband and being connected digitally.” While the internet is often described as a great equalizer , access to the web never has been equal. High-income people have faster internet access than low-income people, urban residents are more connected than rural ones, and whiter counties are more likely to have broadband than counties with more Black and Brown residents. We’re not just talking about a few digital stragglers being left behind: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that more than 18 million Americans lack access to fast broadband, which the agency defines as a 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed. Monica Anderson , who studies the digital divide at Pew Research Center, says that many more Americans have broadband access in their area but don’t subscribe because it’s too expensive. “What we see time and again is the cost is prohibitive,” Anderson said. A lack of broadband reduces opportunities for people in the best of times, but it can be crippling in wake of a disaster, making it difficult or impossible to apply for aid or access recovery resources. Puerto Ricans experienced this in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which battered the island’s telecommunications infrastructure and left many residents with terminally slow broadband more than a year after the storm had passed. Three years later, with a global pandemic moving vast swaths of the economy online for the foreseeable future, internet-impoverished communities around the country are feeling a similar strain . To some extent, mobile networks have helped bridge the broadband gap in recent years. More than 80 percent of Americans own a smartphone, with similar rates of ownership among Black, white and Hispanic Americans. Nearly 40 percent of Americans access the internet primarily from a phone. As far as disaster resilience goes, this surge in mobile adoption is good news: Our phones allow us to receive emergency alerts and evacuation orders quickly, and first responders rely on them to coordinate on the fly. Of the 240 million 911 calls made every year, more than 80 percent come from a wireless device, per the FCC . But in the age of climate change, mobile networks are becoming more vulnerable. The cell towers, cables and antennas underpinning them weren’t always built to withstand worsening fires and storms, a vulnerability that Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T have all acknowledged in recent climate change disclosures filed with the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). And when these networks go down — as nearly 500 cell towers did during California’s Camp and Woolsey fires in 2018, according to the new House climate change plan — it can create huge challenges for emergency response. “Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet,” said Samantha Montano , an assistant professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. “We’re pretty reliant on them.” Democrats’ new climate plan seeks to address many problems created by unequal and unreliable internet access in order to build a more climate-hardy web and society. To help bring about universal broadband access, the plan recommends boosting investment in FCC programs such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund , a $20 billion fund earmarked for broadband infrastructure deployments across rural America. It also calls for increased investment in programs such as the FCC’s Lifeline , which offers government-subsidized broadband to low-income Americans, and it recommends mandating that internet service providers suspend service shutoffs for 60 days in the wake of declared emergencies. Broadband improvements should be prioritized in underserved communities “experiencing or are likely to experience disproportionate environmental and climate change impacts,” per the plan. As far as mobile networks go, House Democrats recommend that Congress authorize states to set disaster resilience requirements for wireless providers as part of their terms of service. They also recommend boosting federal investments in Next Generation 911 , a long-running effort to modernize America’s 911 emergency call systems and connect thousands of individually operating systems. Finally, the plan calls for the FCC to work with wireless providers to ensure their networks don’t go offline during disasters for reasons unrelated to equipment failure, citing Verizon’s infamous throttling of data to California firefighters as they were fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire in 2018. Kessler of Third Way said that Democrats’ climate plan lays out “the right ideas” for bridging the digital divide. “You want to be able to get the technology out there, the infrastructure out there, and you need to make sure people can pay for it,” he said. The call for hardening our internet infrastructure is especially salient to Paul Barford , a computer scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 2018, Barford and two colleagues published a study highlighting the vulnerability of America’s fiber cables to sea level rise, and he’s investigating how wildfires threaten mobile networks. In both cases, he says, it’s clear that the telecommunications infrastructure deployed today was designed with historical extreme conditions in mind — and that has to change. “We’re living in a world of climate change,” he said. “And if the intention is to make this new infrastructure that will serve the population for many years to come, then it is simply not feasible to deploy it without considering the potential effects of climate change, which include, of course, rising seas, severe weather, floods and wildfires.” Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet.   Whether the House climate plan’s recommendations become law remains to be seen. Many specific ideas in the plan already have been introduced to Congress in various bills, including the LIFT America Act , which would infuse Next Generation 911 with an extra $12 billion in funding, and the WIRED Act , which would authorize states to regulate wireless companies’ infrastructure. Perhaps most significantly, House Democrats recently passed an infrastructure bill that would invest $80 billion in broadband deployment around the country overseen by a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. The bill would mandate a minimum speed standard of 100/100 megabits per second for federally funded internet projects, a speed stipulation that can be met only with high-speed fiber optics, says Ernesto Omar Falcon , a senior legal counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties nonprofit. Currently, Falcon estimates that about a third of Americans have access to this advanced internet infrastructure, with a larger swath of the country accessing the web via older, slower, DSL copper or cable lines. “It would connect anyone who doesn’t have internet to a 21st century line,” Falcon said. “That’s a huge deal.” The infrastructure bill seems unlikely to move forward in a Republican-controlled Senate. But the urgency of getting everyone a fast, resilient internet connection isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the idea that internet access is a basic right seems to be gaining traction every day, even making an appearance last week in presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s new infrastructure plan . With the pandemic continuing to transform how we work, live and interact with one another, and with climate change necessitating even larger transformations in the future, our need to be connected digitally is only becoming greater. “I think every day the pressure mounts, because the problem is not going away,” Falcon said. “It’s really going to come down to what we want the recovery to look like. And which of the problems COVID-19 has presented us with do we want to solve.” Pull Quote While the internet is often described as a great equalizer, access to the web never has been equal. Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet. Topics Climate Change Policy & Politics Social Justice Technology Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Worker on the site of an ecological disaster.

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The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis

AB InBev VP: Our quest for ‘agile’ sustainable development continues

May 19, 2020 by  
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AB InBev VP: Our quest for ‘agile’ sustainable development continues Heather Clancy Tue, 05/19/2020 – 02:37 Like most big companies with a complex multinational footprint, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s sales slipped in the first quarter and the beer maker is embracing new financial discipline amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the company also has  acted quickly to prop up key members of its value chain — from small liquor stores to farmers to  restaurants  — and the situation has galvanized its long-term corporate sustainability plans, according to Ezgi Barcenas, vice president of global sustainability for AB InBev. “We really cannot lose these learnings and agility, and I think that’s been a great learning and contribution of the pandemic — helping us to be more agile and to be more collaborative,” she told GreenBiz during an interview in early May. The beermaker’s 2025 goals pledge bold advances in water strategy, returnable or recyclable packaging, renewable energy procurement (its U.S. division in 2019 signed the  beer industry’s largest power purchase agreement  to date) and support for farmers adopting regenerative agriculture practices. Barcenas, the executive responsible for managing that plan and part of the GreenBiz 2020 Badass Women in Sustainability list , joined the company seven years ago. She’s also in charge of the 100+ Sustainability Accelerator, dedicated to startups that can bring technology-enabled innovation to AB InBev’s operations. Below is a transcript of our interview about how the company’s sustainability team is focusing amid the pandemic. The Q&A was lightly edited for length and clarity. Heather Clancy: How has the pandemic changed the immediate focus of the AB InBev sustainability team? Ezgi Barcenas : I really feel like this global situation is a stress test for sustainable development, compelling all of us to think about it more holistically, more collaboratively, and to be more flexible and continue to work together to create value for our entire value chain.  So, I would say when we think about the changes on the immediate focus of our team, I think it’s important to remember that beer is an actual product, and for centuries we’ve really relied on healthy environments and thriving communities. And most of our operations are local, so our sustainability strategy is really deeply connected to the communities and the business … What it’s doing is, it’s, in fact, galvanizing us and our partners to continue to work together and make really impact where it matters the most.  Clancy: What happens to long-term plans? Are they still going on alongside that? Barcenas: As you can imagine, we had to pivot some of our focus towards short-term mitigation plans but continue to power through towards our mid-to-longer-term plans as well. And our commitment in sustainability, our 2025 goals, they remain the same.  I think what I’m really seeing now is the agility and the sense of community that our teams are bringing around the world. And not just sustainability, right? So, sustainability at AB InBev is housed under procurement, so we have a great relationship with our procurement colleagues who are really delivering that impact and executing against those long-term commitments of our supply chain.  But also, our operations teams, logistic teams, our corporate affairs teams, we’re really working hard in creating that local impact today from the donation of masks and emergency relief water to providing hand sanitizers. We’ve figured out how to make them and donate them to our supply chain partners — to launching digital platforms to support bars and restaurants. Those are some of the immediate efforts that the teams have taken on. But at the same time, we’re really full speed ahead on those long-term commitments.  Our commitment in sustainability, our 2025 goals, they remain the same.   As we’re seeing signs of recovery around the world, our team is energized about continuing to work towards those longer-term commitments, towards the [United Nations Sustainable Development Goals]. One thing for sure: We really cannot lose these learnings and agility, and I think that’s been a great learning and contribution of the pandemic — helping us to be more agile and to be more collaborative. Clancy: You already referenced supply chains. This situation has made the vulnerability of certain types of supply chains very visible to the world. How have you worked to ensure the safety and sustainability of your partners within the supply chain?  Barcenas : Supply chain resilience is being tested with this — all the COVID-19 disruptions around the world, forcing countries and companies like ours to rethink our sourcing strategy, refocus our efforts. I would say we’re fortunate in that our operations — with operations in nearly 50 countries around the world our supply chain is much shorter and less complex than you’d think. We have historically invested heavily: We have been investing heavily in local sourcing and creating those local supply chains wherever possible. In fact, we always like to give this number out: We buy, make and sell over 90 percent of our products locally. So, you can think of us as a global company, but our local footprint is really deeply rooted in our operations. That connection hasn’t really changed.  Maybe one example. If you think about agriculture, right? Beer is made of natural materials. Raw material sourcing is really fundamental to the quality of our products. We take great pride in the quality of our raw materials that in turn can help us create some of the most admired brands in the world. And in doing that, in working closely with the farmers, we help contribute towards their livelihoods. And we work with tens of thousands of smallholder farmers around the world.  During the pandemic, one example I can give is how our agronomists are continuing to support our farmers remotely, even if they cannot do field visits, which usually that’s their way of working. They will go out onto the field and visit them in person, talk through their challenges, provide better management and technology tools for them. Right now, they’re doing all of that remotely.  We’re also working to ensure that there is proper sanitation and safety measures, for example, at buying centers. So, keeping those buying centers open — like barley buying centers and other raw materials — and up and running is really huge for farmer cash flow, if you think about it. So, we’re really working to maintain these wherever possible. That’s short-term efforts. In terms of mid-term, long-term, how are we helping our supply chain, especially on the ag front: We’re doing scenario planning with partners like TechnoServe to better understand the impacts on smallholder supply chains, so that it can better inform our ag support services moving forward, as well as our sourcing. Clancy: How has the situation affected your packaging commitments and recycling strategy, if at all? Barcenas : I want to highlight how our packaging sustainability journey has really accelerated — in 2012, when we came out with a commitment to remove 100,000 metric tons of packaging materials globally to when you fast forward to 2018, when we came out with our new public commitments to protect and promote a circular economy.  Today, as part of our 2025 goal, our focus is to make sure all of our products are in packaging that is returnable or made from a majority of recycled content. So, that’s our vision and our commitment.  You can think of us as a global company, but our local footprint is really deeply rooted in our operations.   It is a sad reality that around the world we’re seeing waste management services and recycling programs being impacted. In some markets, they’re deemed essential and in others they’re not. And yes, we are seeing impacts of this, too. What we do in those cases is continue to partner with the recycling cooperatives to mitigate the impact and to ensure the livelihoods of our partners, as well. And to achieve that circular packaging vision, there are a number of things we do. Reuse, reduce, recycle, rethink is how we think about that, and we try to identify gaps in our current ways of working, or technological gaps so that we can identify scalable solutions.  One pilot that is actually currently underway that we kicked off about a month and a half ago is with this startup called Nomo Waste  [Spanish]. It’s a startup in Colombia that is part of 100+ Sustainability Accelerator. We are working with them now on collecting the bottles that get lost in the supply chain, “lost” in the supply chain … to bring them back to the breweries or back to the suppliers, so that bottles can be reused to continue to reduce waste in the supply chain.  We’re also working with another accelerator startup from our first cohort called BanQu … It’s this blockchain technology that we used in our smallholder farm supply chain. Now we’re implementing the same technology with our recycling supply chain — trying to improve the traceability of that bottle and therefore improve the financial inclusion of our recyclers or the waste pickers in the city of Bogota.  Clancy: I wanted to ask about the 100+ program. So, can you offer a status report? Barcenas : We had our first cohort applications back in 2018. We received over 600 applications in our first year, and we were really proud of it. It was born because when we set our 2025 sustainability goals, if you look at it, the language is 100 percent of direct farmers, 100 percent of communities in high-risk watersheds, et cetera.  When we were going through the strategy-setting or the goal-setting process we asked ourselves — we had a candid conversation in the company and with our partners: How sure are we that we’re going to hit these goals by 2025 based on existing solutions and ways of working, partnerships out there? We noticed that there was a clear gap in ensuring, for example, that 100 percent of our farmers will be financially empowered.  The 100+ Accelerator was born out of that to try and identify solutions for problems that we can’t solve today alone. It’s an open platform. We’re hoping any company can come and join us. In its first year, we had [21] startups in our cohort, and they’ve been hugely successful. Some of them we’ve extended them into multiyear commercial contracts. We’ve taken them to different markets. After the initial success of the pilots, we’re scaling them up. We just had our second round of applications wrap up late last year and had our kickoff meetings earlier in February in New York. We received over 1,200 applications from 30-plus countries, and we narrowed it down to 17 companies. Clancy: Can you give me some examples?  Barcenas : I glazed over BanQu , just a quick plug there. BanQu is a non-crypto blockchain technology that uses an SMS service to record purchasing and sales data. We’re using this now with farmers across Uganda, Zambia and India. We were able to scale this partnership to offer farmers a digital financial aid entity.  What used to happen is that these farmers did not really formally exist in our supply chain. They couldn’t go and open a bank account. They couldn’t get crop insurance. They couldn’t get a loan. By giving them a digital record of the transaction, they are able to prove that they are part of our supply chain. And we’re helping them with the digital capabilities as well. We’re offering digital payments, which in turn reduces their cash transactions and therefore lowers their risk for themselves and their families. So, we’re really proud of this. And now, this BanQu technology that we piloted in the ag supply chain we’re bringing to our recycling supply chains as well in Colombia, for example.  Another one, maybe just a quick one: EWTech  [Spanish] is another startup that we piloted in Colombia as part of our first cohort, a great example of how innovation can continue to drive efficiencies in our operational processes. What EWTech does is they offer a green replacement for caustic soda, which we use in the industrial cleaning process. In the pilot test in Bucaramanga, we found out that EWTech’s more sustainable solution, the green solution that they offered, actually showed a 70 percent reduction in water usage versus traditional disinfecting chemicals, 60 percent reduction in cleaning cycle time, which resulted in savings on energy, in freeing up time on bottling lines. So, this was a huge success for us, both from a financial and from an environmental point of view. We are now in the process of figuring out how we can roll this out across many more breweries in the middle Americas — so, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. Of course, with the pandemic things are getting a little bit delayed, but it is our mission to, again, scale this innovation that we identified that is delivering great results for the business and also for the world. Media Authorship Anheuser-Busch Close Authorship Clancy: Can you offer a progress report on the fleet electrification strategy?  Barcenas : Transportation is about 9 percent of our global carbon emissions, and our ambition is to reduce our global emissions by 25 percent across the whole value chain by 2025. Most of this lies in Scope 3, and logistics is a piece of that. We are currently piloting a range of different solutions around the world, looking specifically to fleet electrification but also other things — routing efficiencies, other ways to reduce carbon emissions in our logistics operations. We currently have a pilot in each one of our six operating zones around the world … As you can imagine, COVID-19 has caused some delays to the delivery of additional fleet, and that’s slowing down somewhat the pilots. But we are very ambitious in this area and very keen to identify new solutions and confident that we’ll be able to identify and champion these new innovations and continue to electrify our fleet. Clancy: What do you feel is your most important priority as a chief sustainability officer and strategist right now? Barcenas : We always say sustainability is our business, and I think the biggest learning out of this is that we must not lose the momentum, the learnings and the agility that we’ve built up over the last couple of months to really tackle these problems. We’re a global company. We’re learning a lot along the way as the pandemic has spread around the world. We’re becoming more prepared. And we can’t pause now. Right? So, I think that’s another big learning. In fact, we’re working really hard to ensure and restore the resilience of the communities and the supply chains. That’s our No. 1 priority. And not just supply chain, our entire value chain. As I mentioned, we’re working with our key accounts — bars, restaurants, et cetera — to make sure that they can return to their businesses as well as recovery happens. And we’re really thinking, we’re really spending a lot of time thinking about — not just about how to recover or bounce back but also how to come back even stronger than before, how to retain that agility and focus to continue to create that local impact.  Today’s and tomorrow’s toughest challenges, I think, will require us to continue to be agile and learn new ways of working and continue to innovate. At AB InBev, we’re committed to just that: continuously innovating to future-proof our business and our communities, and inspiring our people in the meantime, right? Inspiring our consumers through our brands as well. Pull Quote Our commitment in sustainability, our 2025 goals, they remain the same. You can think of us as a global company, but our local footprint is really deeply rooted in our operations. Topics COVID-19 Food & Agriculture Corporate Strategy Beer Sustainable Development Goals / SDGs Regenerative Agriculture Collective Insight The GreenBiz Interview Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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AB InBev VP: Our quest for ‘agile’ sustainable development continues

Saving the Scottish Wildcat from extinction

February 24, 2020 by  
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In the wilds of Scotland lives the elusive Scottish wildcat, denoted scientifically as Felis silvestris grampia and colloquially as the “Highland tiger.” Considered as one of the planet’s most endangered animals, and possibly the world’s rarest feline, it is estimated that there are fewer than 50 purebred F. s. grampia individuals left, which accounts for their vulnerability. Meager population estimates, and a lifespan averaging 7 years in the wild, lead many biologists and conservationists to conclude that there might no longer be a viable enough Scottish wildcat population extant in Scotland’s wilderness. Ruairidh ‘Roo’ Campbell, priorities area manager for the Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) program, said, “There are very few pure wildcats — the worry is that none are left. About 12% to 15% of cats we see look like they could be pure.” Related: How hobbyists are saving endangered killifish from extinction F. s. grampia is unlike the domestic cat in several ways. The species is a larger, more muscular relative to the tamed housecat, with the former exhibiting a powerful, stocky body conducive for pouncing. Its legs are longer and larger. The Scottish wildcat is also highly adapted to survive in the wild with its thick, dense fur. This fur tends to have tabby markings with distinctive black and brown stripes, yet no spots. Plus, its feet are not white, nor is its stomach. The tail is blunt at its end rather than tapered. The F. s. grampia ’s head is flatter, with ears that stick out of the side. Evolutionary-wise, F. s. grampia has been isolated from other wildcats for millennia. It is surmised to be “a descendant of continental European wildcat ancestors that colonized Britain after the last Ice Age (7000 – 9000 years ago),” according to the Scottish Natural Heritage . F. s. grampia is unlike its continental cousin, Felis silvestris silvestris , for example, by being even larger. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) , curiously enough, does not consider the Scottish wildcat as a subspecies, which is why on the Red List , it is grouped together with other Felis silvestris . Yet authorities elsewhere recognize the Scottish wildcat as a distinctly different wildcat. Some would say the moniker “Scottish” might be slightly misleading, given that only recently has this feline been restricted to the Scottish wilds, for it had previously roamed more widely in Great Britain. Nonetheless, because it can now only be found in Scotland itself, this feline wonder is highly regarded, particularly by Scottish biologists. As David Barclay, cat conservation project officer at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), described in The Tigers of Scotland , F. s. grampia “is Scotland’s only native cat, [but it’s] more than a native cat species . It’s a symbol for Scotland, a symbol for the wild nature that we have.” Unfortunately, historical persecution, habitat loss from mismanaged logging and genetic integrity dilution from interbreeding with either domestic or feral cats have all pushed the Scottish wildcat closer to extinction in the wild. Mismanaged logging has adversely affected the Scottish wildcat, particularly in altering the landscape it has called home and the food web it relies on to thrive. In fact, the Scottish Natural Heritage reported, “Scotland has much less woodland cover than other countries in Europe, although it did increase in the 20th century. In 1900, only about 5% of Scotland’s land area was wooded. Large-scale afforestation had increased this figure to about 17% by the early 21st century.” Environmental advocates have been diligently pushing for conservation of this treasured feline. This wildcat has not only become an icon and legend for the Scots, but F. s. grampia has likewise come to represent the need for wildlife conservation and reforestation to restore the Scottish, and by extension the British, countrysides. “The reality is we just don’t know how many wildcats we’ve got left,” David Hetherington, ecology adviser with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said in The Tigers of Scotland . “Estimates vary from as low as 30 to as high as 400, but we just don’t know. We’re still trying to ascertain just how many there are, where they are and where they’re not.” Several conservation plans have been implemented, even at the national level, to save the Scottish wildcat from extinction . These include initiatives to restore the feline’s habitat and its population numbers. By expanding the woodlands of Scotland through reforestation programs with the help of organizations like the Scottish Woodland Trust , it is hoped the wildcats have a better chance of averting extinction. Woodland expansion would create viable habitats, in which the wildcats can flourish. But rewilding Scotland by planting trees is not enough, because Scottish wildcats are also being threatened by other factors. Threats of hybridization with domestic or feral cats, minimizing disease transmission, reducing accidents (trapping, road impacts, mistakes by gamekeepers) and boosting genetic integrity all need to be curtailed. The Aigas Field Centre , for instance, has the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Breeding Project that endeavors to mitigate the “greatest threat to the gene pool of the Scottish wildcat.” With a captive population at Aigas, the genetic purity lines are safeguarded. When the captive breeding progeny lines are viable, they will be reintroduced into the wild in regions that are heavily forested and protected to ensure survival success. Additionally, the Aigas Field Centre has an adoption program that encourages donations toward food, veterinary costs and healthy stewardship. Barclay said, “We know the road ahead for wildcat recovery will be challenging, but our strong partnerships with SWA and international conservation specialists give us an incredible opportunity for success.” Images via Peter Trimming ( 1 , 2 and 3 )

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Saving the Scottish Wildcat from extinction

Congress reports U.S. will lose $54 billion annually to storms

May 1, 2019 by  
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A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office predicts an alarming $54 billion in hurricane and flood damage over the next few years — much of which can be avoided by spending money upfront to protect and prevent against losses. The frequency of what are called “billion-dollar storms” appear to be increasing. In 2018, there were 39 “billion-dollar” disasters around the world — 16 of which were in the U.S. Already in the first four months of 2019, the U.S. has endured winter storms Quiana and Ulmer, and each one caused more than a billion dollars  in damage to infrastructure and homes. The new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) focuses on hurricanes, which are the mostly costly natural disasters according to NOAA. Since 1980, tropical cyclones have caused a combined $927.5 billion in damages and are also the most expensive individual storm events in both financial cost and lives lost. Related: Low-income housing in flood zones traps families in harm’s way Of the annual losses predicted by the CBO, $34 billion is estimated in damage to homes, plus $12 billion for the public sector and $9 billion for private businesses. The direct cost to taxpayers is estimated at approximately $17 billion per year. However, the CBO report also underscores several preventive actions that could significantly reduce these costs. By some analyses , mitigation measures (such as flood prevention or watershed protection) could save Americans $6 dollars in losses for every $1 spent in preparation. Solutions to mitigate hurricane damage The following suggestions from the report include environmental and policy-level recommendations to reduce loss in infrastructure and lives from tropical storms and hurricanes. Reduce carbon emissions Hurricanes, and their rising frequency and intensity, are intricately tied to climate change . Increasing temperatures melt glaciers and cause sea level rise, which leads to higher storm surge levels and more destructive flooding. The rising temperatures have also been linked to increased rainfall. Climate change is a result of greenhouse gas emissions; therefore,  reducing emissions would slow and prevent some of the future damage caused by intense storms and extreme flooding. One primary way to reduce emissions, according to the CBO, is by expanding cap-and-trade programs. These programs incentivize companies to keep emissions below designated thresholds and allow the purchasing of emission credits between companies that pollute less and companies that pollute more. However, the CBO also acknowledges that limiting emissions may negatively impact the economy by increasing the cost of goods and services and reducing jobs. Likewise, the CBO argues that such strategies must be enforced at a global scale, otherwise corporations will relocate to countries that allow unfettered pollution. Increase funding for flood mapping The weather is changing, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is struggling to keep up. Rapid urban development in wetlands and flood zones, combined with sea level rise and erosion, are changing the landscape of flood risk. The scale of this need is overwhelming — in 2018, FEMA spent $452 million on flood mapping and data collection, but it was nowhere near enough. Expand flood insurance coverage Flood insurance agencies need accurate spatial data and maps in order to adequately provide coverage, charge appropriate rates and adequately inform the public about their specific risks. Most people simply do not buy flood insurance and of those that do, 25 percent drop their plan within the first year. More accurate data and delineated risk zones can help inform residents of their direct risks and incentivize homeowners to implement mitigation measure, such as relocating heating and cooling equipment above of the predicted flood level. Accurate risk data will also help justify changes for long-standing insurance policy holders who have been “grandfathered” into plans that grossly underestimated their vulnerability before climate science and spatial mapping were widely available. An estimated 20 percent of insurance policy holders are paying rates lower than their appropriate risk level, which is good news for the policy holder up until a storm hits and they are in need of benefits that correspond to the damage they endured. Encourage local and state governments to share recovery costs When the president declares a disaster emergency, municipalities receive federal dollars to provide basic needs and support recovery efforts. Though the federal government plans to ramp up funding for preventive measures, such as sea walls, the CBO believes that if local and state governments had to foot more of the bill, they would be more inclined to enforce important mitigation policy . For example, if local and state governments expected to have to pay for damage to infrastructure, they would be more strict about limiting new development in flood zones — something they have more power to control from a local level. The message is clear — mitigation efforts are worth every penny. The National Weather Service already predicted more severe flooding this hurricane season than previous years. As evidence piles up in favor of mitigation, the only question remaining is ‘where do we start?’ + CBO Via The Weather Channel Image via Raquel M  and Pamela Andrade ( 1 , 2 )

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Congress reports U.S. will lose $54 billion annually to storms

Congress reports U.S. will lose $54 billion annually to storms

May 1, 2019 by  
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A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office predicts an alarming $54 billion in hurricane and flood damage over the next few years — much of which can be avoided by spending money upfront to protect and prevent against losses. The frequency of what are called “billion-dollar storms” appear to be increasing. In 2018, there were 39 “billion-dollar” disasters around the world — 16 of which were in the U.S. Already in the first four months of 2019, the U.S. has endured winter storms Quiana and Ulmer, and each one caused more than a billion dollars  in damage to infrastructure and homes. The new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) focuses on hurricanes, which are the mostly costly natural disasters according to NOAA. Since 1980, tropical cyclones have caused a combined $927.5 billion in damages and are also the most expensive individual storm events in both financial cost and lives lost. Related: Low-income housing in flood zones traps families in harm’s way Of the annual losses predicted by the CBO, $34 billion is estimated in damage to homes, plus $12 billion for the public sector and $9 billion for private businesses. The direct cost to taxpayers is estimated at approximately $17 billion per year. However, the CBO report also underscores several preventive actions that could significantly reduce these costs. By some analyses , mitigation measures (such as flood prevention or watershed protection) could save Americans $6 dollars in losses for every $1 spent in preparation. Solutions to mitigate hurricane damage The following suggestions from the report include environmental and policy-level recommendations to reduce loss in infrastructure and lives from tropical storms and hurricanes. Reduce carbon emissions Hurricanes, and their rising frequency and intensity, are intricately tied to climate change . Increasing temperatures melt glaciers and cause sea level rise, which leads to higher storm surge levels and more destructive flooding. The rising temperatures have also been linked to increased rainfall. Climate change is a result of greenhouse gas emissions; therefore,  reducing emissions would slow and prevent some of the future damage caused by intense storms and extreme flooding. One primary way to reduce emissions, according to the CBO, is by expanding cap-and-trade programs. These programs incentivize companies to keep emissions below designated thresholds and allow the purchasing of emission credits between companies that pollute less and companies that pollute more. However, the CBO also acknowledges that limiting emissions may negatively impact the economy by increasing the cost of goods and services and reducing jobs. Likewise, the CBO argues that such strategies must be enforced at a global scale, otherwise corporations will relocate to countries that allow unfettered pollution. Increase funding for flood mapping The weather is changing, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is struggling to keep up. Rapid urban development in wetlands and flood zones, combined with sea level rise and erosion, are changing the landscape of flood risk. The scale of this need is overwhelming — in 2018, FEMA spent $452 million on flood mapping and data collection, but it was nowhere near enough. Expand flood insurance coverage Flood insurance agencies need accurate spatial data and maps in order to adequately provide coverage, charge appropriate rates and adequately inform the public about their specific risks. Most people simply do not buy flood insurance and of those that do, 25 percent drop their plan within the first year. More accurate data and delineated risk zones can help inform residents of their direct risks and incentivize homeowners to implement mitigation measure, such as relocating heating and cooling equipment above of the predicted flood level. Accurate risk data will also help justify changes for long-standing insurance policy holders who have been “grandfathered” into plans that grossly underestimated their vulnerability before climate science and spatial mapping were widely available. An estimated 20 percent of insurance policy holders are paying rates lower than their appropriate risk level, which is good news for the policy holder up until a storm hits and they are in need of benefits that correspond to the damage they endured. Encourage local and state governments to share recovery costs When the president declares a disaster emergency, municipalities receive federal dollars to provide basic needs and support recovery efforts. Though the federal government plans to ramp up funding for preventive measures, such as sea walls, the CBO believes that if local and state governments had to foot more of the bill, they would be more inclined to enforce important mitigation policy . For example, if local and state governments expected to have to pay for damage to infrastructure, they would be more strict about limiting new development in flood zones — something they have more power to control from a local level. The message is clear — mitigation efforts are worth every penny. The National Weather Service already predicted more severe flooding this hurricane season than previous years. As evidence piles up in favor of mitigation, the only question remaining is ‘where do we start?’ + CBO Via The Weather Channel Image via Raquel M  and Pamela Andrade ( 1 , 2 )

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Congress reports U.S. will lose $54 billion annually to storms

Arctic shipping routes could threaten "unicorns of the sea"

July 3, 2018 by  
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Narwhals, or the “unicorns of the sea,” could be at risk from additional Arctic shipping routes as polar ice continues to recede. A peer-reviewed study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests as many as seven marine mammal species may face new threats and uncertain consequences from increased ship traffic. The Arctic Ocean is home to hundreds of animals, like narwhals, polar bears and whales. However, as the polar ice caps retreat, more shipping companies are taking advantage of open waters to reduce travel time. To determine how the increase of ships could affect marine mammals , the research team from University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Washington studied wildlife during the fall shipping season. The group looked at 80 different subpopulations among the seven species to determine if they were directly exposed to the ships and how much these ships could affect the wellbeing of the marine life. Related: The melting Arctic is already changing the ocean’s circulation During the study period, over half of the subpopulations were impacted by ships, with narwhals inheriting the highest amount of risk. In addition to an increased risk of injury or death from collisions,  toothed whales also face communication challenges because of their audio sensitivity. Like dolphins, the ocean unicorn “talks” with a language of buzzing, clicking and calling. While narwhals could have the most to lose, polar bears and seals have the least risk because of the time they spend on land. But researchers note their populations also come with high long-term uncertainty, and the team concluded more data is required to determine how shipping affects their livelihood. The news wasn’t entirely bad for wildlife populations. The scientists noted through additional data collection, shipping companies could plan for environmentally-sustainable transportation options. “Regions with geographic bottlenecks, such as the Bering Strait and eastern Canadian Arctic, were characterized by two to three times higher vulnerability than more remote regions,” the researchers wrote in their study abstract. “These pinch points are obligatory pathways for both vessels and migratory [ocean mammals], and so represent potentially high conflict areas but also opportunities for conservation-informed planning .” Arctic planning groups are aware of the wildlife threats and are working out plans to balance shipping with environmental concerns. The Arctic Council instituted regulations on transport companies in January 2017, with the goal of making shipping safer for both crews and marine mammals. + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Via Earther

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Arctic shipping routes could threaten "unicorns of the sea"

Solar-powered Swiss home uses prefabrication to minimize site impact

July 3, 2018 by  
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Ralph Germann architectes  has completed the House MW, a contemporary prefabricated home designed to overlook views of the Lac de Joux in Vallee de Joux, Switzerland. Built for a couple and their child on a budget, the dwelling was constructed using prefab systems to reduce waste, costs, and site impact. The home was built with a concrete “skeleton” clad in locally sourced spruce with fiberglass insulation. Created as a modern home with traditional farmhouse influences, the House MW is topped with a simple black corrugated iron roof and embraces the outdoors with a shaded terrace measuring 592 square feet. The timber facades and gables were constructed through off-site prefabrication in a carpenter’s workshop and were later transported by truck to the site. Locally sourced spruce boards clad the facade. “The ‘skeleton of the house was made of concrete (raft foundation, slab and staircase),” explains Ralph Germann architectes. “After the concrete masonry part was completed, the prefabricated wooden facades were attached against this interior concrete structure. By using this method we could build a house for a reasonable cost, with low ecological impact and at the same time we were able to reduce the construction time.” Related: A 1920 Swiss barn is reborn as a modern home for a family of five The interior of the home, which is nearly 2,500 square feet, is bright, airy and lined with birch plywood panels. Concrete partitions finished with plaster, painted with RAL 9010 mineral paint, round out the interior siding. The ground floor ceiling and staircase are made from unfinished concrete. All furniture designed by the architects was constructed from birch venee,r save for the solid larch indoor and outdoor dining tables. An air / water heat pump and photovoltaic solar panels power the home. + Ralph Germann architectes Images © Lionel Henriod

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Solar-powered Swiss home uses prefabrication to minimize site impact

IPCC Report Warns Climate Change is Happening Now and Nobody Will be Spared

March 31, 2014 by  
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The United Nations’  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report Monday on the impact of climate change at their gathering in Yokohama, Japan.  Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability  uses strong language to emphasise its conclusion that global warming is happening right now and will get worse unless the world acts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions . Read the rest of IPCC Report Warns Climate Change is Happening Now and Nobody Will be Spared Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: adaptation , Climate Change , Climate Change 2014: Impacts , global warming , Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , IPCC , Japan , report , risks , UN , vulnerability        

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IPCC Report Warns Climate Change is Happening Now and Nobody Will be Spared

Is New York Turning on Tesla Too?

March 31, 2014 by  
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The battle between Tesla Motors and Auto Dealers Associations across the United States keeps raging on. It turns out that New Jersey isn’t the only state that could pass legislation against Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales approach this month – apparently legislators in New York are trying to advance a similar bill. Read the rest of Is New York Turning on Tesla Too? Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: electric car , green car , green transportation , new jersey , New York League of Conservation of Voters , New York. , tesla , tesla model e , Tesla Model X , tesla model-s        

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Is New York Turning on Tesla Too?

Oxo Architects Propose a Solar-Powered Vertical Village to Replace “Mafia-Built Highway”

March 31, 2014 by  
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The Mafia-built Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway in Italy is a symbol of corruption and failure, which is why Oxo Architects proposed an idea for a solar-powered community that would stand for a brighter and more sustainable future. Working in collaboration with OFF , Philippe Rizzotti , Samuel Nageotte and Ramboll UK , the architects want to convert the old viaduct into an environmentally conscious development that would provide health centers as well as residential and leisure facilities. Read the rest of Oxo Architects Propose a Solar-Powered Vertical Village to Replace “Mafia-Built Highway” Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: mafia-built highway , OFF architects , oxo architects , Philippe Rizzotti , Ramboll UK , Salerno-Reggio Calabria HIghway , Samuel Nageotte , self-sustaining community , solar-powered vertical village        

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Oxo Architects Propose a Solar-Powered Vertical Village to Replace “Mafia-Built Highway”

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