In the coming years, residents of Manhattan will probably suffer from more extreme and frequent heat as a result of climate change. Researchers from Columbia University predict that this will increase the number of heat-related deaths.
Residents of Manhattan will not just sweat harder from rising temperatures in the future, says a new study; many may die. Researchers say deaths linked to warming climate may rise some 20 per cent by the 2020s, and, in some worst-case scenarios, 90 per cent or more by the 2080s. The study was conducted by Columbia University's Earth Institute and the Mailman School of Public Health.
Studies of other cities have already projected adverse health effects from rising temperatures, but this is one of the most comprehensive so far. Unlike many others, it combines data from all seasons, and applies multiple scenarios to a local area—in this case, the most densely populated county in the United States.
"This serves as a reminder that heat events are one of the greatest hazards faced by urban populations around the globe," said coauthor Radley Horton. He says that people need look no further for the potential dangers than the record 2010 heat wave that hit Russia, killing some 55,000 people, and the 2003 one that killed 70,000 in central and western Europe.
Daily records from Manhattan's Central Park show that average monthly temperatures have already increased substantially more than the global and U.S. trends over the past century. Cities tend to concentrate heat; buildings and pavement soak it up during the day and give it off at night.
In every scenario used by the researchers, the projections suggested increased mortality. In the 2020s for instance, numbers produced from the various scenarios worked out to a mean increase of about 20 per cent in deaths due to heat, set against a mean decrease of about 12 per cent in deaths due to cold. The net result: a 5 or 6 per cent increase in overall temperature-related deaths.
Due mainly to uncertainties in future greenhouse emissions, projections for the 2050s and 2080s were less uncertain — but in all scenarios mortality would rise steeply. The best-case scenario projects a net 15 per cent increase in temperature-related deaths; the worst, a rise of 30-some per cent. Assuming Manhattan's current population of 1.6 million remains the same, the worst-case scenario translates to more than 1,000 annual deaths.
The study also found that the largest percentage increase in deaths would come not during the traditionally sweltering months of June through August, but rather in May and September—periods that are now generally pleasant, but which will probably increasingly become incorporated into the brutal dog days of summer.
The bad news is that global warming continues, despite a 'warming pause' over the past decade. The good news is the most extreme rates of warming simulated by the current generation of climate models over 50- to 100-year timescales look less likely.
A new study from an international team of scientists used the most up-to-date information on temperatures, energy flows and energy accumulation in the climate system. The study concludes that global warming in response to rising greenhouse gas levels is "likely to lie within the range of current climate models, but not at the high end of this range."
Professor Reto Knutti of ETH Zurich sounded a note of caution. While he welcomed the new data ruling out more extreme scenarios of global warming, he warned that "we are still looking at warming well over the two degree goal that countries have agreed upon if current emission trends continue."
Although global surface temperatures did not rise over the past decade, the scientists were adamant that we not over-interpret a single decade. The world continued to warm over the past decade, but that warming occurred "mostly in the subsurface oceans rather than at the surface", explained Professor Jochem Marotzke of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg.
What you eat determines your nitrogen emissions: Beef generates about twice as much nitrogen as pork, and almost three times as much as chicken or fish. An international team of scientists have now produced a web-based tool that allows anyone living in the UK to see their own 'nitrogen footprint'.
Scientists have warned that reactive nitrogen pollution is already a major environmental problem that is causing significant damage to air and water quality across the UK. Nitrogen runoff from farms and man-made effluents are largely responsible for algal blooms that affect river systems, whilst atmospheric nitrogen pollution is leading to significant losses of biodiversity.
"Unlike your carbon footprint, what you eat is the most important factor determining your nitrogen footprint," said Dr Carly Stevens of Lancaster University.
For this reason, the scientists from Oxford, Lancaster, and Virginia universities created a tool called the N-Calculator. It asks users to put in information so the tool can calculate the likely effect that the food that they eat or the transport they take has on the environment in terms of nitrogen pollution.
"By altering the amount and type of food that you eat, you can make a big difference to your impact on the environment. The difference in nitrogen levels occurs because of the amount of nitrogen that is lost during the food processing cycles. Simply stated, the larger the animal, the larger its nitrogen footprint because it takes longer to get to market weight", explained Stevens.
The researchers used publicly available data such as national atmospheric data, national land use and farm statistics to make the calculations. The N-Calculator website also makes recommendations for how to lessen your 'nitrogen footprint', such as cutting back on road and air travel, choosing renewable energy and, most importantly, altering the balance of the foods contained in your diet.
Universities are starting to use the tool to show students how one individual can alter and help restore a natural cycle like nitrogen. The researchers suggest that the tool could be used by the wider community, particularly schoolchildren, to explore more sustainable ways of living.
A new study highlights the role that forest products – including insects – can play in the fight against hunger and climate change.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report urging the international community to recognise the important contribution that forests can make to the food security and nutrition of more than a billion people, including many of the world's neediest.
According to the FAO's research, more than 1900 insect species (out of a total of about 1 million known species) are consumed by humans worldwide. Many insects are rich in protein and healthy fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc. For instance, the iron content of locusts varies between 8 and 20 mg per 100 g of dry weight, whereas beef has an iron content of only 6 mg per 100 g of dry weight.
While the report's authors are not telling people to start eating bugs, they do believe that they are an untapped forest resource that have much potential for food and especially for feed. For instance, farming insects sustainably could product insect meal which could be used as a substitute for fishmeal. This could then increase the fish supplies available for human consumption.
Other advantages are that insects produce a fraction of greenhouse gases and can even be used to break down waste from other animals, assisting in the composting processes that deliver nutrients back to the soil.
The report's authors believe that the private sector is ready to invest in insect farming, but will not yet risk investing funds while the laws remain unclear or even hinder development of this new sector. For instance, legislation in most industrialised countries forbids the actual feeding of waste materials and slurry or swill to animals, even though this would be the material that insects normally feed on. Regulations also often bar using insects in food for human consumption, although with a growing number of novel food stores and restaurants cropping up in developed countries, it seems to be largely tolerated.
At least 26 elephants massacred in the Dzanga Bai World Heritage Site in the Central African Republic, after 17 individuals armed with Kalashnikov rifles on Monday entered this unique elephant habitat, known locally as the "village of elephants".
As we reported last week, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned that elephants in Dzanga Bai in Cameroon were in dire threat after poachers had been spotted entering the region.
WWF sources are now reporting that they had counted at least 26 elephant carcasses in and around the Bai, a large clearing where between 50 and 200 elephants congregate every day to drink nutrients present in the sands.
Four of the elephants were calves, the sources said, adding that local villagers had started taking meat from the carcasses.
Since the poachers arrived no elephants have been seen at the Bai, which was described as an "elephant mortuary" the sources added.
Although the 17 armed individuals, who presented themselves as part of the country's transitional government forces, have left the area, WWF and other conservation partners fear the killing could continue unless the area is properly secured.
The Central African Republic has been rocked by violence and chaos since the beginning of the year, and WWF and other conservation organisations left the field office next to the Bai in April for security reasons.
Jim Leape, WWF International Director General, said: "The killing has started. The Central African Republic must act immediately to secure this unique World Heritage site.
"The international community must also act to assist the Central African Republic to restore peace and order in this country to safeguard its population and its natural heritage."
In the wake of last month's catastrophic building collapse which killed 1127 people, a new safety agreement has been reached between the garment industry and Bangladeshi workers.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) welcomed an agreement signed by international fashion brands and retailers, and trade unions to prevent workplace disasters.
The signatories to the Accord on Building and Fire Safety commit "to the goal of a safe and sustainable Bangladeshi Ready Made Garment (RMG) industry in which no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures" according to the ILO website.
The companies that sign on, such as Zara and H&M, have 45 days from the signing to develop and agree on an implementation plan to monitor their textile production in Bangladesh.
A 2002 Governing Body Report showed that at that time there was one labour inspector for one million workers in Bangladesh. A comparable country in that region was Malaysia which had a ratio of one inspector to every five thousand workers.
Scientists have found that glaciers in the Mount Everest region have shrunk considerably over the past 50 years. They suspect climate change is the culprit. If this continues, it could have an impact on populations downstream that depend on the Himalayan glaciers and ice caps for drinking water.
Researchers taking a new look at the snow and ice covering Mount Everest and the national park that surrounds it are finding abundant evidence that the world's tallest peak is shedding its frozen cloak. The scientists have also been studying temperature and precipitation trends in the area and found that the Everest region has been warming while snowfall has been declining since the early 1990s.
Glaciers in the Mount Everest region have shrunk by 13 per cent in the last 50 years and the snowline has shifted upward by 180 meters, according to Sudeep Thakuri, who is leading the research at the University of Milan in Italy.
Glaciers smaller than one square kilometre are disappearing the fastest and have experienced a 43 per cent decrease in surface area since the 1960s. The ends of the glaciers have also retreated by an average of 400 metres since 1962, his team found.
The researchers suspect that the decline of snow and ice in the Everest region is from human-generated greenhouse gases altering global climate. However, they have not yet established a firm connection between the mountains' changes and climate change, Thakuri said.
In subsequent researchers, the team plans to explore the climate-glacier relationship further, with a view to understanding its impact on future water availability.
"The Himalayan glaciers and ice caps are considered a water tower for Asia since they store and supply water downstream during the dry season," said Thakuri. "Downstream populations are dependent on the melt water for agriculture, drinking, and power production."
As global temperatures rise, winter and spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere declines. This puts at risk many plants and animals that depend on the space beneath the snow to survive winter's harsh winds and sub-zero temperatures.
Since 1970 snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has diminished by as much as 3.2 million square kilometres during the spring months of March and April. Maximum snow cover has shifted from February to January and spring melt has accelerated by almost two weeks, according to a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The effects of this – which they ascribe to rising global temperatures – is that the 'subnivium' – the stable, beneath-the-snow habitat where a great many plants and animals seek refuge in the winter months because of its warmer temperatures, near constant humidity and absence of wind – is in decline, putting these species at risk.
As is true for ecosystem changes anywhere, a decaying subnivium would have far-reaching consequences. Reptiles and amphibians, which can survive being frozen solid, are put at risk when temperatures fluctuate, bringing them prematurely out of their winter torpor only to be lashed by late spring storms or big drops in temperature. Insects also undergo phases of freeze tolerance and the migrating birds that depend on invertebrates as a food staple may find the cupboard bare when the protective snow cover goes missing.
For example, plants exposed directly to cold temperatures and more frequent freeze-thaw cycles can suffer tissue damage both below and above ground, resulting in higher plant mortality, delayed flowering and reduced biomass. Voles and shrews, two animals that thrive in networks of tunnels in the subnivium, would experience not only a loss of their snowy refuge, but also greater metabolic demands to cope with more frequent and severe exposure to the elements.
As an ecological niche, the subnivium has been little studied. However, as snow cover retreats in a warming world, land managers need to begin to pay attention to the changes and the resulting loss of habitat for a big range of plants and animals, argue the Wisconsin researchers.
Poachers have entered one of Africa's most unique elephant habitats, threatening to cause one of the biggest elephant massacres in the region since poachers killed at least 300 elephants for their ivory in Cameroon's Bouba N'Djida National Park in February 2012.
According to World Wildlife Fund sources, a group of 17 armed individuals entered the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park last week and headed for the Dzanga Bai, locally known as the 'village of elephants', a large clearing where between 50 and 200 elephants congregate every day to drink mineral salts present in the sands.
Two WWF-supported local researchers said that three members of this group armed with Kalashnikov rifles approached them in the forest on Monday, asking for food and directions to the viewing tower at the Dzanga Bai, which is used by scientists and tourists to observe elephants. After giving a false lead, these sources immediately ran away and heard gunshots coming from the Bai on their way into hiding.
On the same day, two ecoguards said they saw they saw armed individuals on the Dzanga Bai observation platform shooting in the direction of elephants. While going into hiding, these sources said they saw the vehicle which had transported the 17 gunmen parked at the entrance of the park.
The Central Africa Republic has been rocked by violence and chaos since the beginning of the year. Jim Leape, WWF International Director General, said that the poaches are taking advantage of the chaos and instability to slaughter the elephants.
"Wildlife crime is not only a consequence of instability, but a cause. It fuels violence in the region, in a vicious circle that undermines the stability of these countries and their economic development", he said.
He also urged ivory consumer country governments, especially China and Thailand, to redouble their efforts to end the demand for ivory.
An Oceana report has found that illegal fishing not only undermines conservation efforts, but it is also connected to seafood fraud. Oceana caused waves a few months ago when it reported that 30 per cent of seafood is mislabelled.
The consumer advocacy organisation Oceana has just released a report which finds that illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing leads to seafood fraud and threatens fishing economies, seafood consumers and vulnerable marine species on a global scale. Some estimates claim that IUU fishing accounts for 20 per cent of the global catch.
This new report follows up on a report that Oceana released earlier this year – and which we reported on here – in which it found that one-third of seafood sold across the United States is mislabelled and not consistent with Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
Oceana argues that the underlying drivers that contribute to seafood fraud include the global overexploitation of marine resources and the laundering of illegally caught fish in U.S. markets. Most illegal fishermen focus on high-value, expensive species, where the profits gained far outweigh the minor fines and penalties if caught. The lack of regulation and weak enforcement of fisheries laws in many countries support these activities, which allow many illegal fish to enter countries like the U.S., where they are often mixed with legal product or mislabelled as entirely different species.
"Illegal fishing cheats seafood consumers and hurts honest fishermen and businesses that play by the rules," said Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell. "If we want to fight pirate fishing, we need to be able to track our seafood supply from boat to plate so we can keep illegally caught fish out of our markets and off of our dinner plates."
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have concluded that the land-used changes caused by growing biofuel crops could cause some regions to become even warmer.
Biofuels are often regarded as a clean form of energy, at least when compared to fossil fuels. But new research from MIT warns that the land-use changes caused by a major ramp-up in biofuel crops – enough to meet about 10 per cent of the world's energy needs – could make some regions even warmer.
As Willow Hallgren, lead author of the study, points out, attempting to mitigate climate change is far more than "simply substituting out fossil fuels for a cleaner source of energy."
The study found that at a global scale, greenhouse-gas emissions increase, either in the form of more carbon dioxide when CO2-absorbing forests are cut down and replaced with biofuel crops, or in the form nitrous oxide from fertilisers when crop productivity is intensified. However, this global warming is actually offset because the additional cropland would reflect more sunlight and an increase in biofuels would replace some fossil fuel-based energy sources.
The problem is that large-scale expansion of biofuels would likely have significant regional impacts, sometimes far from where the biofuel crops are even grown. In the tropics, for example, clearing of rainforests would likely dry the climate and cause warming, with the Amazon Basin and central Africa potentially warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This tropical warming is made worse with more deforestation, which also causes a release of carbon dioxide, further contributing to the warming of the planet. Meanwhile, Arctic regions might generally experience cooling caused by an increase in reflectivity from deforestation.
"Emphasising changes not only globally, but also regionally, is vitally important when considering the impacts of future energy sources," Hallgren says. "
Scientists have developed a solar-powered nanofilter that removes antibiotics from lakes and rivers twice as efficiently as the best existing technology. Their findings could have a big impact on both human health and on the health of the aquatic environment.
Traces of antibiotics can be found in 80 per cent of all waterways. The presence of antibiotics in surface waters is harmful in that it breeds resistant bacteria and kills helpful microorganisms, which can degrade aquatic environments and food chains. In other words, infectious agents such as viruses and illness-causing bacteria become more numerous while the health of streams and lakes degrades.
So two scientists from the University of Cincinnati set out to develop a new filter that would be more effective than the current filtering technology made of activated carbon. Their findings were impressive: Their nanofilters, each much smaller in diametre than a human hair, were able to absorb 64 per cent of antibiotics in surface waters. This is considerably more efficient than the 40 per cent absorbed by standard activated carbon filters.
One of the more exciting aspects of their filter is that it is able to reuse the antibiotics that are captured. Another important innovation is that the filtering technology is powered by direct sunlight. This is far more efficient than the energy-intensive technology currently used.
The scientists now want to test their system for selectively filtering out hormones and heavy metals from surface waters.
People may be adding a bit more than a touch of colour to their lips, according to a new UC Berkeley study which analysed the contents of lipstick and lip gloss.
Researchers at the University of California Berkeley's School of Public Health tested 32 different lipsticks and lip glosses commonly found in drugstores and department stores. They detected lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminium and five other metals, some of which were found at levels that could raise potential health concerns.
Prior studies also have found metals in cosmetics, but the UC Berkeley researchers compared the concentration of metals detected and consumers' potential daily intake of the metals, and then comparing this intake with existing health guidelines.
"Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term", said the study's principal investigator S. Katharine Hammond.
Lipstick and lip gloss are of special concern because when they are not being blotted on tissue or left as kiss marks, they are ingested or absorbed, bit by bit, by the individual wearing them.
The study found that average use of some lipsticks and lip glosses would result in excessive exposure to chromium, a carcinogen linked to stomach tumours. High use of these makeup products could result in potential overexposure to aluminium, cadmium and manganese as well. Over time, exposure to high concentrations of manganese has been linked to toxicity in the nervous system.
Lead was detected in 24 products, but at a concentration that was generally lower than the acceptable daily intake level. However, the lead levels still raised concerns for young children, who sometimes play with makeup, since no level of lead exposure is considered safe for them, the researchers said.
"I believe that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) should pay attention to this", said another of the study's lead authors, Sa Liu, who urged for a more thorough survey of lip products and cosmetics in general.
At the end of a long day, it can be more convenient to order your groceries online while sitting on the living room couch instead of making a late-night run to the store. New research shows it's also much more environmentally friendly to leave the car parked and opt for groceries delivered to your doorstep.
University of Washington engineers have found that using a grocery delivery service can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half when compared with individual household trips to the store. Trucks filled to capacity that deliver to customers clustered in neighboUrhoods produced the most savings in carbon dioxide emissions.
"A lot of times people think they have to inconvenience themselves to be greener, and that actually isn't the case here", said Anne Goodchild, UW associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. "From an environmental perspective, grocery delivery services overwhelmingly can provide emissions reductions."
The researchers found that delivery service trucks produced 20 to 75 per cent less carbon dioxide than the corresponding personal vehicles driven to and from a grocery store.
They also discovered significant savings for companies – 80 to 90 per cent less carbon dioxide emitted – if they delivered based on routes that clustered customers together, instead of catering to individual household requests for specific delivery times.
"What's good for the bottom line of the delivery service provider is generally going to be good for the environment, because fuel is such a big contributor to operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions", said Erica Wygonik, a UW doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering. "Saving fuel saves money, which also saves on emissions."
Emissions reductions were seen across both the densest parts and more suburban areas of Seattle. This suggests that grocery delivery in rural areas could lower carbon dioxide production quite dramatically.
The Scripps Institution of Oceanography is offering a daily Twitter feed, news and analysis of climate indicators to understand the implications of rising CO2 levels.
For the first time in human history, concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) could rise above 400 parts per million (ppm) for sustained lengths of time throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere as soon as May 2013.
To provide a resource for understanding the implications of rising CO2 levels, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is providing daily updates of the "Keeling Curve," the record of atmospheric CO2 measured at Hawaii's Mauna Loa. These iconic measurements comprise the longest continuous record of CO2 in the world, starting from 316 ppm in March 1958 and approaching 400 ppm today with a familiar saw-tooth pattern. For the past 800,000 years, CO2 levels never exceeded 300 parts per million.
"I wish it weren't true, but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400-ppm level without losing a beat", said Scripps geophysicist Ralph Keeling, who has taken over the Keeling Curve measurement from his late father, Charles David (Dave) Keeling, a world-leading authority on atmospheric greenhouse gas accumulation and Scripps climate science pioneer. "At this pace we'll hit 450 ppm within a few decades."
The website keelingcurve.ucsd.edu offers background information about how CO2 is measured, the history of the Keeling Curve, and resources from other organizations on the current state of climate. An accompanying Twitter feed, @keeling_curve, also provides followers with the most recent Keeling Curve CO2 reading in a daily tweet.
Scientists estimate that the last time CO2 was as high as 400 ppm was probably the Pliocene epoch, between 3.2 million and 5 million years ago, when Earth's climate was much warmer than today. CO2 was around 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution, when humans first began releasing large amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels. By the time Dave Keeling began measurements in 1958, CO2 had already risen from 280 to 316 ppm.
The rate of rise of CO2 over the past century is unprecedented; there is no known period in geologic history when such high rates have been found. The continuous rise is a direct consequence of society's heavy reliance on fossil fuels for energy.
"The 400-ppm threshold is a sobering milestone, and should serve as a wake up call for all of us to support clean energy technology and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, before it's too late for our children and grandchildren", said Tim Lueker, an oceanographer and carbon cycle researcher who is a long-time member of the Scripps CO2 Group.
Long-term exposure to air pollution may be linked to heart attacks and strokes by speeding up atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries", according to new research in the United States.
A new study from public health researchers in the U.S. has found that higher concentrations of fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) were linked to a faster thickening of the inner two layers of the common carotid artery—an important blood vessel that provides blood to the head, neck and brain.
Conversely, they found that reductions of fine particulate air pollution over time were linked to slower progression of the blood vessel thickness.
"Our findings help us to understand how it is that exposures to air pollution may cause the increases in heart attacks and strokes observed by other studies", said Sara Adar, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan.
After adjusting for other factors such as smoking, the authors found that on average, the thickness of the carotid vessel increased by 14 micrometres each year. The vessels of people exposed to higher levels of residential fine particulate air pollution, however, thickened faster than others living in the same metropolitan area.
"Linking these findings with other results from the same population suggests that persons living in a more polluted part of town may have a 2 per cent higher risk of stroke as compared to people in a less polluted part of the same metropolitan area", Adar said.
Bank Sarasin's sustainability ranking analysed which European cities are the most attractive in terms of location and property investments. Stockholm, Oslo and Zurich are the most attractive locations for real estate
Bank Sarasin's Sustainability Research Team, located in Basel, analysed over 200 European metropolitan regions to produce a sustainability rating. The metropolitan areas of Scandinavia, the German-speaking countries and the Netherlands finish in the top third of the rankings. Large cities in the Mediterranean and former East bloc countries, on the other hand, generally finish around the bottom.
The bank's sustainability analysts extended the usual assessment of locations to include additional environmentally and socially relevant criteria such as quality of life, demographics, economy, infrastructure and environment. The biggest difference can be found between cities in northern and southern Europe. For instance, unemployment and air pollution are areas that pushed southern and eastern European cities lower on the ranking.
Bank Sarasin's Sustainability Research team considers regions to be sustainable if they are economically prosperous, offer a high standard of personal living and at the same time ensure an appropriate degree of environmental protection. Affluent cities generally tend to be more sustainable.
Cisco and Google tie for first place in the Greenpeace Cool IT Leaderboard, which evaluates global IT companies on their leadership in the fight against climate change. Greenpeace believes the IT sector has an important role to play in bringing about a clean energy revolution.
Launched in 2009, Greenpeace's Cool IT campaign encourages the IT sector to use its innovative spirit, technological know-how and political influence to provide the energy solutions needed to help stop climate change.
And for the most part, IT companies agree with Greenpeace, with a number of them making progress in offering products and services to enable a renewably-powered economy or finding ways to power their own operations from renewable energy.
A total of 21 companies from the IT sector were ranked this year. Google and Cisco tied for first place, followed by Ericsson in third place, Fujitsu in fourth, and Sprint, Wipro and HP tied for fifth.
Google was praised for convincing U.S. utility giant Duke Energy to offer a new renewable class of electricity service to large customers in North Carolina. According to cleanenergy.org, Google plans to double the size of its data centre in North Carolina, so Duke's announcement means that Google can choose renewable energy and move one step closer to its goal of being 100 per cent renewably powered. Greenpeace wants other IT companies to follow Google's lead, either by demanding more renewable energy from utility companies or to use their recently gained political leverage to fight the fossil fuel lobby by defending state renewable energy policies.
A total of 21 companies from the IT sector were ranked this year. Google and Cisco tied for first place, followed by Ericsson in third place, Fujitsu in fourth, and Sprint, Wipro and HP tied for fifth.
Notably missing from the list is Facebook. While Greenpeace commended the social media innovator for deciding to built its next data centre in wind energy-rich Iowa, the company doesn't yet offer any services that can directly help consumers use their energy in a smarter or cleaner manner.
The full report can be accessed here.
Over one million comments have been submitted to the U.S. State Department, urging the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Opponents of Keystone XL have submitted more than one million comments arguing against the tar sands pipeline. More than 200 pipeline opponents also testified last week at a State Department hearing in Nebraska.
The one million comments were collected from more than 20 organisations, including 350.org, Avaaz, Bold Nebraska, Friends of the Earth, League of Conservation Voters, and Sierra Club.
The tar sands spill in Arkansas has raised new concerns about pipeline safety and the specific risks associated with transporting corrosive and toxic tar sands—especially near and through important bodies of water. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be nearly twice as wide as the pipeline that ruptured in Arkansas, and would carry almost nine times as much tar sands oil every day.
"The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is simply not in our national interest," said Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It would feed our addiction to fossil fuels, accelerate climate change and put our heartland farmers, ranchers and communities at risk. It needs to be denied."
Momentum and citizen action are on the side of those who want to stop the pipeline. More than 90 per cent of those who testified in front of the State Department last week in Nebraska spoke out against the project, and the more than one million comments submitted to President Obama and the State Department stress the risks to health and safety, water, and climate.
President Obama said in his Earth Day proclamation, "nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change." Pipeline opponents from across the political spectrum agree and are uniting to use their voices to protect the environment.
Grand Canyon condors are dying from lead poisoning caused by ingesting spent lead ammunition fragments in carrion. Condors are one of the most endangered species in North America.
Lead ammunition continues to take a deadly toll on endangered California condors that live in and around the Grand Canyon. Seven of the 80 wild condors in Arizona and Utah have died since December; three of those deaths have been definitively linked to lead poisoning and it is suspected in the other four deaths.
"The continuous deaths of Grand Canyon condors from lead poisoning is preventable if we finally treat toxic lead ammunition as we did lead paint and leaded gasoline", said Jeff Miller at the Center for Biological Diversity, arguing that voluntary efforts to reduce lead ammunition have been unsuccessful, he argues.
California condors, the biggest land birds in North America, are also the most endangered. Of the 166 condors reintroduced into Utah and Arizona since 1996, 81 have died or disappeared. When the cause of death could be determined, more than half were due to poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition fragments left in gut piles or carcasses of shot game. At least 38 condors have been killed by lead poisoning in Arizona and Utah, with more deaths suspected to be linked to lead. Lead poisoning recently killed the female of Utah's only breeding pair of condors. Each year, up to half of the wild Grand Canyon condors must be given life-saving, emergency blood treatment for lead poisoning.
"Lead is dangerous to people and wildlife, even at very low levels", said Sandy Bahr with the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. "Requiring non-lead ammunition for hunting on public land would be an important step in limiting lead exposure for condors and other wildlife."
Lead ammunition is likely the biggest, largely unregulated source of lead knowingly discharged into the environment in the United States. Millions of non-target birds and other wildlife are poisoned each year from scavenging carcasses containing lead-bullet fragments or from ingesting spent lead-shot pellets, mistaking them for food or grit.
Lead poisoning of condors, eagles and other wildlife is avoidable since reliable non-lead bullets are available in all calibres used for big-game hunting, with superior ballistics, accuracy and safety. A recent national poll found that 57 per cent of Americans support requiring the use of nontoxic bullets for hunting.
Past climate change varied remarkably between regions. This is demonstrated in a new international study that reconstructed temperature over the past 1000 to 2000 years.
Some 80 researchers from all over the world collaborated on the study, which has just been published in the journal "Nature Geoscience". In one of the widest-ranging efforts yet undertaken to reconstruct climate across the globe, the international author team evaluated data from all continents to track the evolution of temperatures over the past one to two millennia. According to the University of Bern, which participated in the study, one of the main findings is that a general cooling trend caused by different factors (e.g., orbital-driven insolation and changes in solar and volcanic activity) was reversed by a distinct warming trend beginning at the end of the 19th century.
An analysis of the average temperatures over 30-year periods indicates that interval from 1971-2000 was probably warmer than any other 30-year period in the last 1400 years. It remained cold only in Antarctica. Warming in the 20th century was on average twice as large in the northern continents as it was in the Southern Hemisphere.
The study "Continental-scale temperature variability during the last two millennia" was initiated and coordinated by the Past Global Changes (PAGES) organisation, which was established in 1991 to facilitate international research into understanding climatic and environmental dynamics by studying the past.
A new survey shows that while more than 88 per cent of Americans think that cigarette butts are an environmental concern, more than 44 per cent of those polled who have ever smoked admit to littering the ground with those toxic pieces of trash.
Littered cigarette butts are more than just an eye sore. According to environmental clean-up reports, cigarette butts are the number 1 littered item on U.S. roadways and the number 1 item found on beaches and waterways worldwide.
Toxic tobacco trash includes a plastic filter that biodegrades only under extreme conditions, putting wildlife in danger and wreaking costly havoc on U.S. waterways, parks, beaches and roadways. Additionally, cigarette butts contain carcinogens that can leach into soil, and chemicals that are poisonous to wildlife, threatening to contaminate water sources.
"Social norms surrounding litter have shifted dramatically over the last several decades", said Dr. Cheryl Healton, President and CEO of Legacy, a public health non-profit based in Washington, D.C. "But despite the fact that so many Americans are hyper-concerned about the environment and are eager to recycle household items and pick up litter, there remains a total disconnect when it comes to flicking cigarette butts onto our streets and into our waterways."
To reverse this, Legacy has partnered with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to raise awareness and mobilise action against cigarette butt littering by releasing a television and radio Public Service Announcements (PSAs). Download the PSAs and read more at RethinkButts.org.
A new report from environmental groups shows that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would, if approved, be responsible for carbon dioxide equivalent emissions comparable to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants.
In documenting the emissions associated with the controversial pipeline project, the report makes real the scale of climate impact and the further hurdles the project would create for the battle against climate change.
The major findings of "Cooking the Books: How The State Department Analysis Ignores the True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline" are:
– The pipeline would cause 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e). This is comparable to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars, which more cars than are currently registered on the entire West Coast (California, Washington, and Oregon), plus Florida, Michigan, and New York – combined.
– Between 2015 and 2050, the pipeline alone would result in emissions of 6.34 billion metric tons of CO2e. This amount is greater than the 2011 total annual carbon dioxide emissions of the United States.
– The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves must remain undeveloped if we are to avoid a 2 degree C temperature rise. Constructing the Keystone XL pipeline and developing the tar sands make that goal far more difficult, if not impossible, to reach.
"When evaluating this project, the State Department should apply a simple test: Does its completion bring the U.S. closer to meeting its climate goals? The answer is clearly no, and therefore the project must be denied", said Steve Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International.
In its 2012 World Energy Outlook, the IEA is very clear about the impact of climate policy on U.S. oil demand. If meaningful climate policy is pursued, U.S. oil demand would necessarily be cut 50 per cent by 2035 and 70 per cent by 2050 based on a 2012 baseline.
The report was researched and written by Oil Change International with input and review by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Environment America, National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.
According to the Global Wind Energy Council's Annual Market Update, new installations of wind power reached record levels in 2012. It predicts that strong markets in China, India and Brazil as well as in new markets in Latin America, Africa and the rest of Asia will drive global growth through to 2017.
Record installations in the United States and Europe led global installations of 44.8 GW of new wind power globally in 2012, 10 per cent more than was installed in 2011. Global installed capacity has now reached 282.5 GW, a cumulative increase of almost 19 per cent.
The US regained the #1 spot for global markets in 2012 for the first time since 2009, eking out China by 164 MW.
The forecast is for a modest downturn in 2013, however, followed by a recovery in 2014 and beyond. Yet Europe's record installations in 2012 are unlikely to be repeated even in 2014 as a result of what the GWEC calls "policy uncertainty and backtracking".
"Wind power may be variable, but the greatest threat to the continued stable growth of the industry is the variability and unpredictability of the politicians who set the frameworks for the energy sector", said Steve Sawyer, GWEC Secretary General.
A new survey shows that many Republicans in the United States feel that the country should take steps to address climate change. More than three quarters in favour of using renewable energy, while only one third agree with the Republican Party's position on climate change.
The survey of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents conducted by the Center for Climate Change Communication (4C) at George Mason University found that a majority of respondents (62 per cent) feel America should take steps to address climate change. More than three out of four survey respondents (77 per cent) said the United States should use more renewable energy sources, and of those, most believe that this change should begin immediately.
The national survey, conducted in January 2013, asked more than 700 people who self-identified as Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents about energy and climate change.
"Over the past few years, our surveys have shown that a growing number of Republicans want to see Congress do more to address climate change," said Mason professor Edward Maibach, director of 4C. "In this survey, we asked a broader set of questions to see if we could better understand how Republicans, and Independents who have a tendency to vote Republican, think about America's energy and climate change situation."
Other highlights from the survey include the following:
• Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents prefer clean energy as the basis of America's energy future and say the benefits of clean energy, such as energy independence, saving resources for our children and grandchildren, and providing a better life for our children and grandchildren outweigh the costs of more government regulation or higher energy prices.
• By a margin of 2 to 1, respondents say America should take action to reduce its fossil fuel use.
• Only one third of respondents agree with the Republican Party's position on climate change, while about half agree with the party's position on how to meet America's energy needs.
• A large majority of respondents say their elected representatives are unresponsive to their views about climate change.
"The findings from this survey suggest there is considerable support among conservatives for accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean renewable forms of energy, and for taking steps to address climate change," said Maibach. "Perhaps the most surprising finding, however, is how few of our survey respondents agreed with the Republican Party's current position on climate change."
The report can be downloaded at: http://climatechangecommunication.org
A team of American researchers has discovered a way to extract large quantities of hydrogen from any plant. This breakthrough has the potential to revolutionise the alternative energy market by bringing a low-cost, environmentally friendly fuel source to the world.
Y.H. Percival Zhang from Virginia Tech boldly states that this discovery "could help end our dependence on fossil fuels", calling hydrogen "one of the most important biofuels of the future."
Zhang and his team succeeded in using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory. Zhang's method can be performed using any source of biomass.
This new environmentally friendly method of producing hydrogen utilises renewable natural resources, releases almost no greenhouse gases, and does not require costly or heavy metals. Previous methods to produce hydrogen are expensive and create greenhouse gases.
Jonathan R. Mielenz, from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who is familiar with Zhang's work but not affiliated with this project, said this discovery has the potential to have a major impact on alternative energy production.
"The key to this exciting development is that Zhang is using the second most prevalent sugar in plants to produce this hydrogen," he said, which "reduces the overall cost of producing hydrogen from biomass."
Zhang believes his discovery has the possibility of making an enormous impact if and when it eventually becomes commercially available. "The potential for profit and environmental benefits are why so many automobile, oil, and energy companies are working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as the transportation of the future."
The commercial market for hydrogen gas is now around US $100 billion for hydrogen produced from natural gas, which is expensive to manufacture and generates a large amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Industry most often uses hydrogen to manufacture ammonia for fertilisers and to refine petrochemicals, but an inexpensive, plentiful green hydrogen source can rapidly change that market.
"It really doesn't make sense to use non-renewable natural resources to produce hydrogen," Zhang said. "We think this discovery is a game-changer in the world of alternative energy."
The vast region of Africa known as the Sahel will descend into large-scale drought, famine, war and terrorist control if steps are not taken immediately to avert the perfect storm of climate change and the most rapidly growing population in the world.
The "perfect storm" of climate change and population growth is brewing in the African Sahel, one which will lead to the misery of tens of thousands of people and reach well beyond the region, warns Malcolm Potts from the University of California, Berkley.
The Sahel is a three million square mile band of arid and semi-arid land stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and bordering on the Sahara desert. The United Nations projects that the population will leap from 100 million today to 340 million in 2050; there were just 30 million people in the Sahel in 1950.
According to a report published by UC Berkley and the Kenya-based African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), more frequent droughts caused by climate change will lead to significant starvation rates and fighting over diminishing resources.
And it will only get worse: "Today's extreme weather events will become the norm in 20 years," said Michael Wehner, the report's co-author.
The report calls for three key policies and says they must be enacted together for all of them to succeed:
-Invest in the well-being of girls and young women by providing girls with access to schools and mentoring, and by opposing female genital mutilation, which creates lifelong suffering for many victims.
-Invest in family planning by promoting policy changes to overcome misinformation and barriers to access currently preventing women from making choices about their family size.
-Promote actions that prepare people for the impacts of climate change by helping communities to develop small-scale energy and water systems, and to implement agricultural measures such as adjusting soil inputs and water storage systems for changing conditions.
The authors argue that immediate action is critical because it takes time to slow population growth, get girls into school, and train people to change the agricultural methods their families have practiced for generations.
The European Commission wants to help companies and consumers navigate the green maze by proposing EU-wide methods to measure the environmental performance of products and organisations.
Today, companies wanting to highlight the environmental performance of their products face numerous obstacles: They have to choose between several methods promoted by governments and private initiatives and pay multiple costs to provide environmental information. They also face the mistrust of European consumers, nearly half of whom are confused by the stream of environmental information or the numerous labels that make it difficult to compare products.
For these reasons, the European Union is proposing that there be only one method to measure the environmental performance of products (the Product Environmental Footprint) and one other for organisations (the Organisation Environmental Footprint). Both assessments will look at the entire lifecycle. While these methods will only be voluntary, Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik believes that by reducing the number of methods and competing information, it will be easier for consumers to make informed, reliable choices.
The proposal calls for a three-year testing period to develop product and sector specific rules. A second phase will consist of an in-depth evaluation of the results of the testing period.
A new initiative was unveiled this week to participants at the United Nations Forum on Forests. Global Forest Watch 2.0 – which will be launched next month – seeks to provide clear and timely information that makes it easier for governments, companies and communities to fight deforestation.
Global Forest Watch 2.0 is a an independent, interactive, real-time, forest monitoring system that unites satellite technology, data sharing and human networks around the world to provide information critical to better managing forests. It was developed by the World Resources Institute and a number of partners including Google, the University of Maryland and the UN Environment Programme.
Many countries have already made tremendous progress in improving the quality of information gathered about forests and making it accessible. In Brazil, for instance, deforestation rates have dropped by 80 per cent since 2004 in part because its near real-time forests monitoring systems have greatly enhanced its enforcement efforts. Gabon, for its part, is investing millions of dollars in improving access across the region to satellite imagery and remote sensing for a new infrastructure programme that is being developed on the ground.
But according to Nigel Sizer, Director, Global Forests Initiative, World Resources Institute, more needs to be done because those forest authorities in many countries – developing and developed alike – continue to lack access to timely information on what is happening to their forests.
Which is where Global Forest Watch 2.0 comes it. It brings together technologies and human networks, including satellite and remote sensing technology. And by partnering with Google Earth Engine's team, the tool provides easy access to cloud computing-based forest cover information. In the meanwhile, high-speed internet connectivity enables sending data and forest maps processed in North America, Europe or Singapore to laptops and mobile phones in Jakarta, Kinshasa, Lima, Vladivostok, and other corners of the globe. Smartphones, which are more and more common, can also be used by anyone in the field to download maps and satellite images, as well as upload GPS coordinates and photographs from the ground. In addition, crowdsourcing and social media can spread information quickly, help communities organise and empower people to mobilise, act and participate in forest monitoring.
According to a study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), good governance of the environment and natural resources is key to building lasting peace in Sudan, specifically Darfur.
The report looks at the importance of equitable and participatory environmental governance in Sudan, and how other countries across Africa, such as Kenya, Niger, and South Africa, have tried to reduce tension over the environment and improve the management of land, water, forests and other resources.
"Any peace process in this war-torn region of Sudan must consider environmental governance, and the lessons we can learn from other African countries," said Robin Bovey, UNEP's Country Director in Sudan. "UNEP recommends that all parties ensure that land and natural resource issues are placed high on the peacebuilding agenda."
Since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011 and the subsequent loss of vital oil export revenue, Sudan is increasingly dependent on the livestock and agriculture sectors to boost its economy. Consequently fair governance of the country's natural resources is critical as a foundation for the national economy.
A key issue in Darfur's recovery is how the dynamic interface in natural resource management between traditional leadership and formal government will work, and how emerging forms of natural resource management across Africa such as group ranching, integrated water resources management and community forestry will be complimentary to this interface. Supporting the development of inclusive governance arrangements that can meet the challenges that Darfur faces today such as climate change, recovery from conflict and rapid urbanisation is a priority that needs to run through Darfur's recovery and development planning.
Reducing the waste of food will be key to overcoming the challenge of feeding a global population of 9 billion. In the United States alone, 4 out of every 10 pounds of food is thrown away, a meeting of the American Chemical Society was told.
"We will need another 'Green Revolution' to feed the world by 2050," said John Floros, Ph.D., referring to the development of high-yield, disease-resistant breeds of grain and other agricultural innovations that took root in the 1960s. This will have to involve scientific innovations, such as new strains of rice, wheat and corn that are adapted to a changing climate. But it will also require action to reduce the waste of food.
According to Floros, up to half of all food harvested from farmers' fields in developing countries is lost before reaching consumers. That waste can occur due to spoilage from improper storage of grain during transportation or from pests.
"A different kind of waste occurs in the United States and some other developed countries," Floros said. "Developed countries have much more efficient systems for preserving, storing, transporting and protecting food from spoilage and pests. But as a nation — households, supermarkets, restaurants, other food-service providers — we throw away about 4 out of every 10 pounds of food produced each year."
Government studies show, for instance, that the average family in the United States throws away 20 pounds of food a month, more than $2,000 worth every year for a family of four. It includes food that has gone uneaten and spoiled in refrigerators and on pantry shelves, as well as food that people throw away after cooking. Uneaten food actually rivals paper, plastic and other refuse as the no. 1 material in some municipal landfills. In addition, food waste in landfills releases methane gas as it decomposes, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Supplying enough food, however, is only one part of the problem. Several other food-related challenges lie ahead: Water, for instance, is becoming scarcer, as is fertile farmland. Global climate change may stress those resources even further, while the demand for sustainable energy may divert more cropland to production of crops for biofuel production. Economic conditions threaten less investment in agricultural research and development. Drought and other extreme weather could impact food production.
Floros believes that consumers, industry, universities and governments all need to pitch in to resolve these complex issues and provide 9-10 billion people with a nutritious diet.
A new study has found that pollution from fine particles in the air – mainly the result of burning coal or volcanic eruptions – can shade corals from sunlight and cool the surrounding water resulting in reduced growth rates.
Although coral reefs grow under the sea it seems that they have been responding to changes in the concentration of particulate pollution in the atmosphere, according to study by a team of climate scientists and coral ecologists from the UK, Australia and Panama. Corals are colonies of simple animal cells but most rely on photosynthetic algae for their energy and nutrients.
Corals are already understood to be vulnerable to climate change and ocean acidification. But the researchers show for the first time a clear link between coral growth and concentration of particulate pollution in the atmosphere.
Particulate pollution or 'aerosols' reflect incoming sunlight and make clouds brighter. This in turn reduces the light available for coral photosynthesis, as well as the temperature of surrounding waters, both of which slow down coral growth, according to Dr. Paul Halloran of the Met Office Hadley Centre.
The study shows that coral growth rates in the Caribbean were affected by volcanic aerosol emissions in the early 20th century and by aerosol emissions caused by humans in the later 20th century.
The researchers hope that this work will lead to a better understanding of how coral growth may change in the future, taking into account not just future carbon dioxide levels, but also localised sources of aerosols such as industry or farming.
The majority of Americans back better preparation for extreme weather events and sea-level rise, including support for stronger coastal development codes, according to a Stanford University survey.
Images told the story: lower Manhattan in darkness, coastal communities washed away, cars floating in muck. Superstorm Sandy, a harbinger of future extreme weather intensified by climate change, caught the country off guard in October. Unprepared for the flooding and high winds that ensued, the East Coast suffered more than US $70 billion in property damage and more than 100 deaths.
According to a Stanford University survey, the images have also had a lasting impact on the American mindset: An overwhelming majority of Americans want to prepare in order to minimise the damage likely to be caused by global warming-induced sea-level rise and storms. A majority also wants people whose properties and businesses are located in hazard areas to foot the bill for this preparation, not the government.
Among the most popular policy solutions identified in the survey are stronger building codes for new structures along the coast to minimise damage (favored by 62 per cent) and preventing new buildings from being built near the coast (supported by 51 per cent).
"People support preventive action," said survey director Jon Krosnick, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and professor of communication, "and few people believe these preparations will harm the economy or eliminate jobs."
The challenges posed by rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms will only intensify as more Americans build along the coasts. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report released March 25 predicts that already crowded U.S. coastlines will become home to an additional 11 million people by 2020.
Pharmaceuticals commonly found in the environment are disrupting streams, with unknown impacts on aquatic life and water quality, according to a new paper that highlights the ecological cost of pharmaceutical waste and the need for more research into environmental impacts.
Pharmaceutical pollution is everywhere. It leaks into our water because of aging infrastructure, sewage overflows and agricultural runoff. Even sewage treatment facilities aren't properly equipped to remove pharmaceuticals.
The result is straightforward and disturbing: "Our streams and rivers are exposed to a cocktail of synthetic compounds, from stimulants and antibiotics to analgesics and antihistamines", explains Dr. Emma Rosi-Marshall, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
With colleagues from Indiana University and Loyola University Chicago, Rosi-Marshall looked at how six common pharmaceuticals influenced similar-sized streams in New York, Maryland, and Indiana. Caffeine, the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, the antidiabetic metformin, two antihistimines used to treat heartburn (cimetidine and ranitidine), and one antihistamine used to treat allergies (diphenhydramine) were investigated, both alone and in combinations, using pharmaceutical-diffusing substrates.
Healthy streams are slippery streams. And it turns out that antihistamines dry more than our noses. The most striking result of the study was diphenhydramine's effects on algal production and microbial respiration. Exposure caused biofilms (the slippery coating on streams' rocks) to experience up to a 99 per cent decrease in photosynthesis, as well as significant drops in respiration. Diphenhydramine also caused a change in the bacterial species present in the biofilms, including an increase in a bacterial group known to degrade toxic compounds and a reduction in a group that digests compounds produced by plants and algae.
While the investigation focused on the effect of pharmaceuticals on biofilms, the results suggest that antihistamines could have repercussions for animals in stream food webs, like insects and fish. The authors call for additional studies to look at the concentrations that cause ecosystem disruption and how drug mixtures, which most natural streams experience, impact freshwater systems. They also believe that their study adds another piece of evidence to the case calling for innovations in the way we manage wastewater to overcome the dangers stemming from aging infrastructure and improper wastewater treatment.
Germany's capital is getting serious about climate neutrality. It has turned to a group of climate experts to help it draft a bold roadmap aimed at reducing per capita emissions from the present six tonnes per year to less than two tonnes per year.
The Berlin Senate has turned to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) to map out scenarios that will enable Germany's capital to be climate neutral by 2050. This will requiring reducing per capita emissions to less than two tonnes per year (down from the current six tones per year). To achieve this, significant improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings will be necessary as well as integrating different forms of renewable energy of a massive scale and overhauling the transport sector.
"Berlin is a city of renters, with a rather average economic power in relation to the other German states," PIK sociologist and head of the feasibility study, Fritz Reusswig, says. "Therefore it is crucial to point out practicable and socially acceptable paths to climate neutrality for Berlin." This will require the active involvement of citizens, in addition to experts and politicians.
The Berlin Senator for Urban Development and the Environment, Michael Müller, believes that the feasibility study will be important far beyond Berlin, noting that it can make an important contribution to the energy transition across Germany.
Researchers have discovered a new technology that could use excess carbon dioxide to produce acrylate, a valuable commodity chemical involved in the manufacture of everything from polyester cloth to disposable diapers.
Chemical companies churn out billions of tons of acrylate each year, usually by heating propylene, a compound derived from crude oil.
Since the 1980s researchers have been looking into the possibility of making acrylate by combining carbon dioxide with a gas called ethylene in the presence of nickel and other metal catalysts. CO2 is essentially free and something the planet currently has in overabundance. Ethylene is cheaper than propylene and can be made from plant biomass. But scientists were unable to complete the process.
Until now. Thanks to research by scientists at Brown and Yale Universities, not only have they discovered how to make acrylate, but their findings could be used in making all kinds of commodity chemicals out of excess CO2.
In other words, it just may be possible to turn greenhouse gas emissions into something a bit more green.
A rapid proliferation of roads across the planet is causing irreparable damage to nature, but properly planned roads could actually help rather than harm the environment, according to two leading ecologists in the journal Nature.
"Loggers, miners and other road builders are putting roads almost everywhere, including places they simply shouldn't go, such as wilderness areas," said Professor Andrew Balmford of the University of Cambridge. "Some of these roads are causing environmental disasters."
"The current situation is largely chaos," said Professor William Laurance of James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. "Roads are going almost everywhere and often open a Pandora's Box of environmental problems." He points to the Amazon rainforest where over 95 per cent of all forest destruction and wildfires occur within 10 kilometres of roads.
But the researchers say it doesn't have to be like this. "Roads are like real estate," said Laurance. "It's 'location, location, location'. In the right places, roads can actually help protect nature."
The secret, say the scientists, is to plan roads carefully, keeping them out of wilderness areas and concentrating them in areas that are best suited for farming and development.
"In such areas," said Balmford, "roads can improve farming, making it much easier to move crops to market and import fertilisers. This can increase farm profits, improve the livelihoods of rural residents, enhance food security and draw migrants away from vulnerable wilderness areas."
This will be crucial in the future, say the scientists, given that global farming production will need to double in the coming decades to feed up to 10 billion people.
The researchers say a global mapping program is needed to advise on where to put roads, where to avoid new roads and where to close down existing roads that are causing severe environmental damage.
A recent study out of Philadelphia turns on its head the notion that high levels of green space in an urban area results in higher crime rates. Instead of shielding criminal activity or making it easier for criminals to escape, well-maintained green spaces can actually have a suppressive effect on crime.
As an undergraduate student at Temple University, Mary Wolfe spent three months teaching summer school at an elementary school in Northern Philadelphia. She observed that her students' perception of their environment had been shaped by a great deal of negative characteristics of the inner city, such as crime and poverty.
This prompted her to explore how specific land uses in the city – particularly 'natural' or green spaces – influenced crime rates. Wolfe approached Department of Geography and Urban Studies Associate Professor Jeremy Morris about partnering to explore the effect that vegetation has on crime in Philadelphia as a whole.
After establishing controls for other key socioeconomic factors related to crime, such as poverty, educational attainment and population density, their study found that well-maintained vegetation lowered the rates of certain types of crime, such as aggravated assault, robbery and burglary, in urban neighbourhoods.
"There is a longstanding principle, particularly in urban planning, that you don't want a high level of vegetation, as it was believed it abetted crime by either shielding the criminal activity or allowing the criminal to escape", said Mennis. "Well-maintained greenery, however, can have a suppressive effect on crime.
The study examined the idea that viewing or being within a natural setting has a mentally restorative or calming effect and suppresses precursors to violent behaviour. "I was initially sceptical," said Mennis, "but many studies bear out the beneficial effects of natural settings on people's behaviour."
Mennis and Wolfe's study also explored the use of public spaces, resulting in neighbourhoods actively engaged in maintaining their communities. "It results in more social control and more vigilance among residents — it's the idea of 'eyes on the street'", he said. "It strengthens the community fabric and discourages criminal activity."
Eva Monheim, instructor in Landscape Architecture and Horticulture in Temple's Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, referred to the appearance of a more engaged neighbourhood as the "window box theory." "If you see well-maintained window boxes, gardens, lawns and community spaces it gives the impression of a stable, healthy community — people are watching out for that neighbourhood", she said. "Broken window panes, unmaintained vegetation — weeds and tall grass — give the opposite impression: a neighbourhood in decline."
One of the largest telecommunications companies in the United States has introduced a shuttle service in New York City to help reduce traffic congestion and carbon dioxide emissions. Verizon has rolled out a fleet of 25 buses that will pick up company technicians at central locations throughout the city and then transport them to local job sites.
The fleet – known as MAGIC, which stands for Mobile Area Garage Installation Center – removes approximately 250 Verizon trucks from the city's roads and frees up the same number of parking spots. The MAGIC buses, each of which can hold up to 12 technicians, do not need to be parked on city streets – unlike Verizon's traditional work vehicles, which technicians drive from job location to job location and park at each one while they are at work.
The company believes that the MAGIC fleet will help ease traffic congestion, since roughly 30 per cent of city traffic is caused by drivers searching for parking spots. And by eliminating the need for technicians to spend time searching for available parking spots, Verizon aims to provide more efficient customer service in the city.
The Verizon initiative is not simply about getting vehicles of city streets. "To curb greenhouse emissions and reduce gasoline consumption, two of the MAGIC buses were designed to be fuelled by compressed natural gas, and also have plug-in electric systems", explains James Gowen, chief sustainability officer of Verizon.
Overall, replacing older Verizon trucks with the more fuel-efficient MAGIC fleet program will save the company more than 70,000 gallons of gasoline yearly. The MAGIC fleet will also reduce CO2 by more than 645 metric tonnes, which is equivalent to the weight of 200 passenger vehicles.
Verizon hopes that their example will inspire other corporations to green their vehicle fleets and operations.
Victims of last month's cyclone in Madagascar were given wood-saving stoves as part of this year's Earth Hour commemorations. The much-needed stoves reduce charcoal and lessen the impact of wood gathering on forests.
Does it make sense to switch off the lights for one hour in a region where the majority of people don't even have electricity at home? WWF and the Association for the Development of Solar Energy (ADES) don't think so, which is why – in the spirit of Earth Hour – they distributed one thousand wood-saving stoves to victims of the recent cyclone Haruna in the southern town of Toliara, which was extensively damaged by the February 22nd storm.
Families that received a stove can cut their charcoal consumption in half while also protecting the forest and reducing emissions. The environmentally friendly stoves will also save them money, at least US $3 a month. "This is a lot in a country where 90 per cent live on less than $1 a day", explained José Randrianirina Patrick, Director of ADES' Centre in Toliara.
Deforestation is the main environmental threat in Madagascar, and the demand for fuel wood and charcoal is leading to a rampant degradation the island's unique natural forests. 80 per cent of the population cook with charcoal or firewood, and 92 per cent of the energy used in Madagascar every day is for cooking purpose.
Toliara is no exception: Its annual charcoal consumption was estimated in 2012 to be 30 000 tonnes, which means 8000ha of forests, are being decimated every year.
"If efficient, wood-saving stoves are used by all 35,000 households in Toliara, we believe that coal consumption will decrease by 50 per cent and the area of forest lost to the exploitation of charcoal too. During Earth Hour we hope to inspire people to adopt these stoves", said Rina Andrianarivony, Fuel Wood Programme Officer at WWF.