Category Archives: Sustainability

Environment Notables

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Leonardo DiCaprio threatened with deportation by Indonesian government

“Activists may love Leonardo DiCaprio, but right now, the Indonesian government doesn’t. The actor recently incurred the ire of the government through efforts to raise awareness for the Leuser Ecosystem, which faces deforestation for the palm oil industry. After criticizing the destruction of the forest for the industry on his Instagram, the government threatened deportation.”

57% of Scotland’s energy came from renewables in 2015

“A new report published by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change shows that 57.7% of Scotland’s electric consumption came from renewable sources in 2015, exceeding the country’s 50% target for the year. This milestone comes in spite of the UK government’s recent decision to end public subsidies for onshore wind farms a year earlier than initially planned.”

Researchers discover toxic heavy metals in Portland’s trees and air

“United States Forest Service researchers, including economist Geoffrey Donovan and moss and lichen expert Sarah Jovan, weren’t searching for pollution. They were working on a study to demonstrate how trees benefit cities when they began the moss experiments, which health experts say is the first type of this research. Yet their 346 samples revealed toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, and the concentrations were greatest near two glass factories, one in southeast Portland, the other in north Portland.”

New Swedish wave energy buoy boasts 5x the output of existing technology

“We already harness energy from the sun, the wind, and many other natural processes for our own uses, and electricity generated from ocean waves could be the next big thing in renewables. Known as wave energy, the concept is relatively new and technologies are still a bit rudimentary (and expensive), especially when it comes to large-scale energy generation. CorPower Ocean, based in Sweden, has developed a buoy that is surprisingly productive. One small buoy can generate enough electricity from the ocean to power 200 homes. Imagine what a farm full of floating buoys could do.”

U.S. has potential to get 40 percent of its electricity from rooftop solar

“The NREL issued the new report (PDF) at the end of March, marking the first time since 2008 that national estimates of solar power potential have been calculated through such precise methods. The report is the culmination of three years of research, evaluating rooftops for their “suitability” for solar power generation. For a very simplified comparison, this is like using Google’s Project Sunroof on the entire country all at once, to get an idea of how much solar power could be produced if an array is placed on every rooftop that would be worthwhile.”

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U.S. will finally get its first offshore wind farm this year

“The project was initially planned for completion in 2012, but set backs and plan changes have delayed it. GE, the makers of the five 6-MW “Haliade” turbines that will make up the project, has just announced that the wind farm is on target to be up and running by the end of the year. Even with the delays, it will be the first completed offshore wind farm in the country.”

Bacardi wants you to “hold the straw” with your next drink

“By going straw-less at the gin distillery will save 14,000 straws from landfill every month. It’s a small drop in the bucket, but at least it raises awareness and will hopefully encourage people to transfer those straw-free orders to other areas of their life.”

Second environmental activist murdered in Honduras; government detains surviving, injured activist

“Environmental activists in Honduras continue to be threatened and murdered following the assassination of environmental activist Berta Cáceres earlier this month. Gustavo Castro, an activist staying at Cáceres home, witnessed her murder and was shot twice during the attack. Now, he is being detained by Honduran authorities. Nelson García, a fellow member of the organization COPINH, was killed 13 days after Cáceres’ death…COPINH says the attack builds on the intimidation and death threats they’ve already received. Eight of the nine coordinators of the organization have been interrogated without a reason for up to 12 hours.”

Poland is planning to log one of the last primeval forests of Europe

“One of the last remaining untouched forests in Europe will be opened up to logging activity, according to Poland’s environment minister. Around 180,000 cubic meters (6.4 million cubic feet) of wood will be taken from Bialowieza Forest over the next decade, much to the disappointment of environmentalists and naturalists. While government officials say the logging efforts will be controlled and limited, others worry this may be the beginning of the end of Europe’s last primeval forest, as well as the wild creatures who call it home….Government officials insist the logging will not take place in the area of forest UNESCO recognized, and activity will be strictly restricted to minimize damage. “We’re acting to curb the degradation of important habitats, to curb the disappearance and migration of important species from this site,” said Jan Szyszko, Poland’s environment minister, in a press conference.”

Horrifying rash outbreak leads many to criticize Canada’s healthcare for indigenous peoples

“An outbreak of rashes and open sores on children in Canada’s Kashechewan First Nation is leading many to criticize the health care and living conditions for aboriginal peoples in the country. Around 30 children were affected, and Kashechewan Chief Leo Friday said the rashes could be a result of mold, tainted water sources, or failing infrastructure in their community.”

For Science!

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Scientists are growing ten different kinds of crops in Mars-like soil

“The Wageningen University team believes the first Mars colonists will likely grow food underground. They say it would be difficult to create a structure strong enough for the surface that would protect the plants from cosmic radiation. Mars settlers will probably grow food in engineered conditions in habitations below the surface, so in their experiments, the Netherlands team grew food in consistent, Earth-like conditions in a greenhouse.
While the research emphasizes paving the way for future Mars colonizers, the team also believes their findings could benefit those living in harsh environments here on Earth, such as the desert or a disaster area.”

Did these scientists just cure HIV/AIDS?

“Researchers at Philadelphia’s Temple University have made a thrilling breakthrough on the path to cure HIV/AIDS. In a recent experiment, they managed to remove HIV-1 DNA out of the human genome. And when they reintroduced HIV to the edited genomes, the cells were no longer infected with the virus.”

How 6 ant-inspired microrobots can pull a 3,900-pound car

“Don’t let their diminutive size fool you. The microrobots developed by the engineers at the Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab at Stanford University might look like toys, but thanks to the power of biomimicry, the imitation of nature, they can move objects weighing more than 2,000 times their own weight when they work together.”

Some Goods And Some Bads

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The global coal industry is using as much water as a billion people each year

“We already know that coal-fired power plants are bad for the planet, but that’s usually because we are just thinking about the enormous amounts of carbon dioxide emissions they contribute to our atmosphere. A new Greenpeace report entitled The Great Water Grab sheds light on another terrifying aspect of the coal industry – its astronomical water consumption. The report suggests that the global coal industry uses the same amount of water that would serve one billion people each year. Because coal plants are often situated in water-scarce areas of the world, this adds up to a devastating misuse of Earth’s precious resources.”

Warka Water tower that pulls drinking water from thin air wins World Design Impact Prize

“Designed by Arturo Vittori and his Italian studio Architecture and Vision, Warka Water is a water-catchment system that produces potable water by harvesting rain, fog, and dew. The team took design cues from naturally found forms, like termite hives and cactus spines, and combined them with low-cost, locally found materials to create the sculptural and biomimetic tower. A Warka Water structure comprises a bamboo frame, recyclable mesh, rope, canopy, and a water tank, and can be assembled easily and inexpensively by six people in about four days.”

Biodegradable algae water bottles provide a green alternative to plastic

“The algae bottle retains its unique shape until it is empty, and then it begins to break down. It’s an all-natural alternative to plastic, and Jónsson says drinkers can even chew on the bottle if they enjoy the taste. Agar is often used as a vegetarian or vegan substitute for gelatin in desserts, and is both safe for the environment and humans.”

Florida nuclear power plant is leaking pollutants that threaten drinking water

“A nuclear power plant south of Miami is leaking polluted water into the fragile ecosystem of Florida’s Biscayne Bay. The leak was discovered during a recent investigation commissioned by the county government, which revealed that Turkey Point power plant’s old cooling canal system is leaking pollutants into a body of water that mingles with the open sea. A growing saltwater plume in the bay is pulling contaminated water several miles away toward wells that supply drinking water to millions of Florida residents.
Scientists found elevated levels of salt, ammonia, phosphorous and tritium in water samples taken at various depths. Tritium is a radioactive isotope that is found in nature, but also stems from nuclear power plants. Although the current levels aren’t high enough to pose a direct threat to humans, the test results show that the pollutants exceed the levels set by federal clean water regulations.”

Leonardo DiCaprio gives Seychelles $1 million for monumental marine sanctuary

“The donation from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) supports a larger effort to offer financial aid to the island nation. In addition to the million dollar gift, foreign investor groups have agreed to a “debt swap” agreement, which calls for a massive restructuring of the nation’s $21.4 million debt in exchange for ocean protection efforts. The Seychelles government has plenty of reasons to want to protect its surrounding seas, as much of the country’s economy relies on tuna fishing and water-centric tourist activities.”

Norwegian energy giant developing battery solution for offshore wind

“Renewable Energy Magazine reports that Statoil, the Norwegian energy (and oil) giant that’s developing this project, is also launching Batwind—a lithium ion battery storage solution designed specifically for offshore wind applications. And its first trial run, in late 2018 if all goes to plan, will be at the Hywind floating wind farm. Developed in conjunction with universities and suppliers in Scotland, if successful, this project could add a significant boost to an already exciting new development in wind energy technology.”

‘The Story of Stuff’ takes on Nestlé in new film

“Nestlé has been fighting for a water deal in Cascade Locks since 2007. It wants permission to carry away millions of gallons of water annually, driving it through the downtown core in huge 20,000-pound trucks at a rate of one every four minutes. The water would be bottled and sold right back to Americans.”

Starbucks to donate leftover packaged food

“Through FoodShare, all of Starbucks 7,600 company-operated stores in the United States will donate ready-to-eat meals to food banks through the company’s existing relationship with Food Donation Collection and a new partnership with Feeding America. By the end of 2016, Starbucks estimates it will have donated 5,000 ready-to-eat meals to those in need. It will also save many of those 5,000 meals from ending up in the landfill.”

Coral reefs can be healthy if we keep humans at bay, massive 10-year study shows

“Over the past decade, the researchers have studied 450 coral reefs spread around 56 islands in the central Pacific, including Hawaii, the Phoenix islands, the Mariana Archipelago and American Samoa. This massive undertaking has revealed how much of an impact proximity to humans has on the coral reefs. Those near remote islands are dramatically healthier than those near populated areas. The remote corals host more species including sea turtles, jellyfish, manta rays, sharks, as well as more colorful algae.”

Another environmental activist, Nelson García, is murdered in Honduras

“Sadly his assassination, like that of Cáceres, does not come as a surprise. Honduras is known for being one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists. A report called “How Many More?” from Global Witness states that 101 activists have been killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2014. Many are from indigenous communities that resisted development projects, including mines and dams, and the encroachment of farms on their territory.”

Bacteria, Bike Super Highways, & Fireballs, Oh My!

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Newly discovered plastic-eating bacteria could help clean up plastic waste around the world

“Japanese researchers recently discovered a microorganism that literally eats plastic. The bacterium, now named Ideonella sakaiensis, has been proven to completely break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a common type of plastic used in bottles and other containers. That type of plastic makes up a huge proportion of all the plastic waste in the world, particularly in the ocean, and now, scientists are investigating whether the hungry little bug can be used to recycle plastic and reduce pollution.”

I just worry that if it’s strong enough to degrade non-degradable things, what else will it do? Here’s hoping they don’t just dump it into the waters…

Norway to invest $1bn to create 10 ‘bike superhighways’

“As reported by Katie Herzog over at Grist, Norway will be investing close to $1 billion to build “bike superhighways” around its 10 largest cities. The idea is to create two-lane bike paths that facilitate both in-city travel, and connections to the suburbs surrounding each town. As Herzog suggests, the move is part of a broader push to diversify Norway’s economy and invest in infrastructure, largely as a response to plummeting oil prices and job cuts that have accompanied them.”

Magical ball extinguishes any fire immediately, even if no one is around!

“The Elide Fire Ball eliminates the need for training and the risk of panicked fumbling once a fire erupts by instantly unleashing a cloud of extinguishing chemicals. It can even be passively mounted near at-risk appliances for protection when no one is home.”

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Solar energy rolls out like a carpet with groundbreaking Roll-Array photovoltaics

“Solar power is easier to install than ever before thanks to the latest innovation: the Roll-Array. John Hingley and his team at the renewable energy company Renovagen designed a high power PV array that rolls out like a carpet. This flexible and easy-to-transport instant microgrid has the capacity to bring alternative energy to places we never thought possible. Check out the video below to see it in action.”

Architecture for Humanity re-launches as Open Architecture Collaborative

“The nonprofit world was hit hard in January 2015, when Architecture for Humanity, a design firm dedicated to bringing professional design and construction services to regions in crisis, abruptly shuttered its doors and declared bankruptcy. (For more details on the closure, read our article on what went wrong here.) But today, the organization may be seeing signs of new life, in a slightly different form. Thirty of the international chapters once affiliated with the nonprofit have launched a new organization of volunteer designers and architects called the Open Architecture Collaborative.”

Shocking new map shows where cancer-causing glyphosate sprayed in San Francisco

“Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Choir partnered with the San Francisco Forest Alliance to create the map, using information gathered from the San Francisco Parks Department. The map lists over 200 locations, which include ball fields, libraries and playgrounds, as well as parks all across the city.”

Florida drops new fracking bill after public outcry

“When a fracking bill introduced in the Florida state senate was met with public outcry, senators dropped the measure before it was even debated. Many were concerned that the bill would potentially allow the oil and gas industry to explore fracking in the Everglades, and would have allowed oil companies to keep the toxic chemicals used in the fracking process a secret from the public. Fortunately, this time, the environment won out… for now.”

The Crappiest Post This Side Of The Mississippi

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I was initially reminded of this video about a week ago while I was talking with my brother and I feel it has relevance to this post. Initially released in 2010, it discusses Planned Obsolescence, the idea that things should not be built to last in order to keep the economy going. I feel this is a good place to start our “math problem”.

Now, let’s add:

Why your $8 shirt is a huge problem for society and the environment + an infinite scroll of the dangers of cheap fashion

And, I don’t know, multiply(?) that by:

  • The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years
  • And still, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage—the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks. Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation.
  • In 2014, the average size of new homes built increased to an all-time high of 2,690 square feet. In 2015, the average grew another 30 square feet to 2,720.
  • While our houses have gotten bigger, our families have gotten smaller. Because of these two factors, since 1973, average living space per American person has doubled.
  • The growth in square footage of new homes has wiped out nearly all the efficiency gains. In other words, though energy efficiency has developed rapidly, we’ve increased our home size to the point that we’re still using almost the exact same amount of energy.

(stats above acquired from Becoming Minimalist Here and Here)

And yet the ‘hot commodities’ are usually electronics and those have become smaller and flatter. Even appliances have the option of being small.

We’ve been conditioned to buy. Buy the new thing, the latest thing, the most popular thing. You don’t want to feel left our do you? Feeling down? Some retail therapy will help you to feel better!

And most of it’s crap. We’re left with a hoarder complex in a throw away society. And we justify our purchases saying we can afford it or we could use a new one. So of course our homes are packed with stuff we don’t need. Of course there’s places piled high with trash.

(I couldn’t have planned this segue any better on purpose!) Which equals:

  • The U.S. has 3,091 active landfills and over 10,000 old municipal landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, in the “good old days,” every town (and many businesses and factories) had its own dump. According to the 1997 U.S. Census, there are 39,044 general purpose local governments in the United States – 3,043 county governments and 36,001 subcounty general purpose governments (towns & townships). One suspects that there are many more old and abandoned commercial, private, and municipal dumps than the 10,000 estimated by the EPA. Zerowasteamerica.org

WHERE DOES OUR TRASH GO?
[Lower income countries to the left; Higher income to the right]


(Chart from 2012 The Atlantic – 2.6 Trillion Pounds of Garbage: Where Does the World’s Trash Go?

And just for good measure, most gets shipped to poorer/less “developed” countries – The world’s biggest and most dangerous dump sites – interactive 2014

Because you know, that whole out of sight-out of mind tactic works wonders. Surely if you ignore the problem it’ll go away.

Horrifying ‘river of trash’ flows through the capital of Lebanon

“Last summer, officials in Beirut, Lebanon closed their main landfill, but they forgot one important thing: they failed to provide for a replacement. Now a health crisis mounts as two million tons of trash spill into the streets, creating what people have begun to call a ‘river of trash‘ that flows through the city, spewing garbage and toxins into the once-beautiful area.”

And apparently China has been buying our trash to  harvest what was usable. The United States sold $10.8 billion worth of metal and paper scrap to China in 2011. But in 2013 China introduced Operation Green Fence and Chinese ports have turned away “foreign garbage” by the hundreds upon thousands of tons (links in Chinese). “If China customs found a syringe, even if it’s just one, in a bale of plastic, it’s considered medical waste and the whole shipment would get rejected,” Peter Wang, CEO of recycling exporter America Chung Nam, said at a conference recently. – The Washington Post

And do I need to mention our waters? UNESCO.org – Facts and figures on marine pollution

Or space debris? Washington Post – Space trash is a big problem. These economists have a solution.

But what are we supposed to do? Most of what we purchase comes in packages/containers. It’s not like we’re just gonna keep them laying around. And if something automatically comes in something reusable we only need one. What do we do with the next one we get? Sure the reusable bags are great, but what about foods and other products? We can’t exactly go shopping with our own containers and leave the packaging there. That’s not getting rid of the problem, we’re just not taking it home. Yeah, Whole Foods has the bulk oats and grains area where you can scoop out what you want, but you’re still bringing it home in a bag you’re eventually throwing away. There are some solutions attempting to rise:

I’d like to think there’s more, but I can’t say for sure. And what about body products? Cleaning products? Unless you make your own stuff at home you are always getting new packages/containers/bottles/tubes.

We must assume, with trash being such a lucrative business, that the government/big companies will continue to do a lot of not much regarding this issue besides happily talking about ideas they have. Or perhaps try to tell us it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s up to us to clean up our act. They’re not going to do it for us. Vote with our dollars, because we know they will follow where the money goes like bloodhounds. Use every opportunity available to you. Take initiative and help clean up in your community. Be vocal about what you want because no one wants to start a business where they think there’s no demand. Maybe not buy that $5 shirt and buy one of better quality (and will usually last longer) for $20. Maybe buy products that have a certain percent of the proceeds going towards a cause.  Maybe not buy the latest and greatest thing because it’s the latest and greatest thing. Don’t tell yourself that it’s none of your business/ it’s someone else’s problem/ there’s nothing you can do/ that’s what “they” get paid for. Because if someone else was going to take care of it they would’ve and doing something (no matter how small you think it is) is better than nothing. So, young Padawan, armed with the weapon of words and a view of the big picture, go forth and do great things.