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More than 95% of world’s population breathe dangerous air, major study finds

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More than 95% of the world’s population breathe unsafe air and the burden is falling hardest on the poorest communities, with the gap between the most polluted and least polluted countries rising rapidly, a comprehensive study of global air pollution has found.

Cities are home to an increasing majority of the world’s people, exposing billions to unsafe air, particularly in developing countries, but in rural areas the risk of indoor air pollution is often caused by burning solid fuels. One in three people worldwide faces the double whammy of unsafe air both indoors and out.

The report by the Health Effects Institute used new findings such as satellite data and better monitoring to estimate the numbers of people exposed to air polluted above the levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. This exposure has made air pollution the fourth highest cause of death globally, after high blood pressure, diet and smoking, and the greatest environmental health risk.

Experts estimate that exposure to air pollution contributed to more than 6m deaths worldwide last year, playing a role in increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung disease. China and India accounted for more than half of the death toll.

Burning solid fuel such as coal or biomass in their homes for cooking or heating exposed 2.6 billion people to indoor air pollution in 2016, the report found. Indoor air pollution can also affect air quality in the surrounding area, with this effect contributing to one in four pollution deaths in India and nearly one in five in China.

Bob O’Keefe, vice-president of the institute, said the gap between the most polluted air on the planet and the least polluted was striking. While developed countries have made moves to clean up, many developing countries have fallen further behind while seeking economic growth.

He said there was now an 11-fold gap between the most polluted and least polluted areas, compared with a six-fold gap in 1990. “Air pollution control systems still lag behind economic development [in poorer nations],” he said.

But he added: “There are reasons for optimism, though there is a long way to go. China seems to be now moving pretty aggressively, for instance in cutting coal and on stronger controls. India has really begun to step up on indoor air pollution, for instance through the provision of LPG [liquefied petroleum gas] as a cooking fuel, and through electrification.”

The number of people exposed to indoor air pollution from burning solid fuels has fallen from an estimated 3.6 billion around the world in 1990 to about 2.4 billion today, despite a rising population.

Emissions from transport are a growing concern, however, as road traffic increases. Diesel fuel is a leading cause of air pollution in some rich countries, including the UK, but in poorer countries the often decrepit state of many vehicles means petrol-driven engines can be just as bad in their outputs, especially of the fine particulate matter blamed for millions of deaths a year.

O’Keefe said governments were under increasing pressure to deal with the problems through regulation and controls, and hailed internet access as having a significant impact.

Social media has been very important, as a growing number of people have access to it and to data and discussions [on air pollution]. People now have the ability to worry about not just the food they eat and a roof over the head, but they have the means to discuss [issues] in public,” he said.

Tuesday’s report reinforces an increasing volume of data in recent years that has shown how air pollution is increasing and causing deaths. More data has become available in the past decade from satellites and on-the-ground monitoring, while large-scale studies have revealed more of the health risks arising from breathing dirty air, which rarely kills people directly but is now known to contribute to other causes of death.

Source: theguardian.com

(Dipla Katerina)

Mountain erosion may add CO2 to the atmosphere

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Scientists have long known that steep mountain ranges can draw carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere—as erosion exposes new rock, it also starts a chemical reaction between minerals on hill slopes and CO2 in the air, “weathering” the rock and using CO2 to produce carbonate minerals like calcite.

A new study led by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), however, has turned this idea on its head. In paper released on April 12th in the journal Science, the scientists announced that the erosion process can also be a source of new CO2 gas, and can release it back into the atmosphere far faster than it’s being absorbed into newly-exposed rock.

“This goes against a long-standing hypothesis that more mountains mean more erosion and weathering, which means an added reduction of CO2. It turns out it’s much more complicated than that,” says Jordon Hemingway, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and lead author on the paper.

The source of this extra CO2 isn’t entirely geological. Instead, it’s the byproduct of tiny microbes in mountain soils that “eat” ancient sources of organic that are trapped in the rock. As the microbes metabolize these minerals, they spew out .

The researchers came to this realization after studying one of the most erosion-prone mountain chains in the world—the central range of Taiwan. This steep-sided range is pummeled by more than three major typhoons each year, each of which mechanically erode the and rock through heavy rains and winds.

Hemingway and his colleagues examined samples of soil, bedrock, and river sediments from the central range, looking for telltale signs of organic carbon in the rock. What they found there surprised them.

“At the very bottom of the soil profile, you have basically unweathered rock. As soon as you hit the base of the soil, layer, though, you see that’s loose but not yet fully broken down, and at this point the present in the bedrock seems to disappear entirely,” notes Hemingway. At that point in the soil, the team also noticed an increase in lipids that are known to come from bacteria, he adds.

“We don’t yet know exactly which bacteria are doing this—that would require genomics, metagenomics, and other microbiological tools that we didn’t use in this study. But that’s the next step for this research,” says WHOI marine geochemist Valier Galy, senior author and Hemingway’s advisor in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program.

The group is quick to note that the total level of CO2 released by these microbes isn’t severe enough to have any immediate impact on climate change—instead, these processes take place on geologic timescales. The WHOI team’s research may lead to a better understanding of how mountain-based (or “lithospheric”) carbon cycles actually work, which could help generate clues to how CO2 has been regulated since the Earth itself formed.

“Looking backwards, we’re most interested in how these processes managed to keep the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere more or less stable over millions of years. It allowed Earth to have the climate and conditions it’s had—one that has promoted the development of complex life forms,” says Hemingway. “Throughout our Earth’s history, CO2 has wobbled over time, but has remained in that stable zone. This is just an update of the mechanism of geological processes that allows that to happen,” he adds.

Source: phys.org

(Dipla Katerina)

China is about to get its first vertical forest

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They could be the breath of fresh air that pollution-choked cities desperately need. Vertical forests – high-rise buildings covered with trees and plants – absorb carbon dioxide, filter dust from pollution and produce oxygen. They’re also an ingenious way of planting more trees and creating habitats for wildlife in cities that are squeezed for space.

OK_SIbq5yr7L-k5Bqp_9tgZowPLlP7snhbVdFu8dPcYChina, a nation experiencing rocketing urban growth and an air pollution crisis, is set to get its first vertical forest. The project in the eastern city of Nanjing is the brainchild of the Italian architect Stefano Boeri and his team, who built Milan’s Bosco Verticale (vertical forest), consisting of two residential high-rises at 110 and 76 meters with around 900 trees and over 20,000 smaller plants and shrubs.

The Nanjing vertical forest will be higher than its Milanese predecessor, with two neighbouring towers at 200 and 108 meters tall. Scheduled for completion in 2018, the complex will house a 247-room luxury hotel, offices, shops, restaurants, a food market, conference and exhibition spaces, a museum, a rooftop club and even a green architecture school.

The skyscrapers will hold 1100 trees from 23 local species and 2500 cascading plants and shrubs, which the architects say will provide 25 tons of CO2 absorption each year and produce about 60 kg of oxygen a day.

From vertical forests to forest cities?

To put things in perspective, saving 25 tons of Co2 would be equivalent to taking five cars off the road for a year. Chinese cities have some of the most polluted air in the world. In December, air quality got so bad that 24 cities across north-east China were put on “red alert”. Schools were temporarily closed, flights were cancelled, vehicles ordered off the roads and residents urged to stay indoors until the smog eased.

Boeri told The Guardian that while his vertical forest will only make a tiny difference in Nanjing, he hopes it will act as a catalyst for more green architecture projects.

Two towers in a huge urban environment [such as Nanjing] is so, so small a contribution – but it is an example. We hope that this model of green architecture can be repeated and copied and replicated,” he said.

His firm, which has offices in Shanghai, has even bigger plans afoot – forest cities. It has come up with a concept for the northern industrial hub of Shijiazhuang, one of China’s most polluted cities, which envisions a compact and green mini-city for 100,000 people with buildings of different sizes covered in trees and plants.

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Today around 54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas – a proportion that is expected to increase to 66% by 2050, with most of the growth concentrated in Africa and Asia.

As more people move to cities, urban sprawl encroaches further into surrounding green space. Boeri conceived his vertical forests as a way of “giving back to nature the space we are taking from it”.

And the idea appears to be catching on. New examples of vertical greenery are springing up around the world, from Singapore’s “Supertrees” to Sydney’s One Central Park.

Source: weforum.org

International Mountain Day 11 December

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Mountains under pressure: climate, hunger and migration

Almost one billion people live in mountain areas, and over half the human population depends on mountains for water, food and clean energy. Yet mountains are under threat from climate change, land degradation, over exploitation and natural disasters, with potentially far-reaching and devastating consequences, both for mountain communities and the rest of the world.

Mountains are early indicators of climate change and as global climate continues to warm, mountain people — some of the world’s hungriest and poorest — face even greater struggles to survive. The rising temperatures also mean that mountain glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates, affecting freshwater supplies downstream for millions of people. Mountain communities, however, have a wealth of knowledge and strategies accumulated over generations, on how to adapt to climate variability.

Climate change, climate variability and climate-induced disasters, combined with political, economic and social marginalization, increase the vulnerability of mountain peoples to food shortages and extreme poverty. Currently, about 39 percent of the mountain population in developing countries, or 329 million people, is estimated to be vulnerable to food insecurity.

As the vulnerability of mountain populations grows, migration increases both abroad and to urban centres. Those who remain are often women, left to manage the farms but with little access to credit, training and land tenure rights. Out-migration from mountain areas will also result in an inestimable loss in terms of provision of ecosystem services and preservation of cultural and agrobiodiversity. Investments and policies can alleviate the harsh living conditions of mountain communities and reverse out-migration trends from mountain areas.

Celebrate International Mountain Day

International Mountain Day 2017 provides an occasion to highlight how climate, hunger and migration are affecting highlands and to ensure that sustainable mountain development is integrated into the 2030 Agenda and in the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

This year, the theme is also linked to the Mountain Partnership Global Meeting, to be held on 11-13 December at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, which will focus on the challenges and opportunities in sustainable mountain development and will launch a Framework for Action to support concrete actions and establish policies that strengthen the resilience of mountain peoples and environments.

While “Mountain under Pressure: climate, hunger, migration” is the suggested theme for 2017, countries, communities and organizations are welcome to celebrate International Mountain Day through the choice of a different theme that might be more relevant to them.

Sourcewww.un.org

 

Penzance wins first plastic-free status award to help clean up beaches

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A Cornish town has become the first community in the UK to be awarded “plastic-free” status after dozens of residents and business people backed a grassroots scheme aimed at helping clean up oceans and beaches. As part of a campaign being run by the marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), Penzance has been given “plastic-free coastlines approved” status.

Shops, cafes and visitor attractions have reduced single-use plastics and children and adults have taken part in beach cleans. The town’s status was confirmed after the town council voted to support the initiative.

Another 100 communities across the UK are taking part in SAS’s plastic-free coastlines scheme and working towards the status, which has been inspired by the fair trade and transition town schemes.

Rachel Yates, an SAS regional representative in Penzance, said she had been impressed by how keen people were to take part.

Everybody you speak to wants to do something,” she said. “People are contacting us asking what they can do. We haven’t had to chase people”.

Among those who have signed up to Plastic Free Penzance is the Cornish Hen Deli. Owner Sarah Shaw said she was using biodegradable pots, wooden cutlery, paper straws and cornstarch plates for outside catering jobs.

She said: “It’s hugely important because one of the reasons a lot of people live down here is the connection to the sea and the elements. You’re so much more aware of what’s going on that the thought of not doing something about it is awful”.

Flo Gibson, manager of the Jubilee open-air pool cafe, said reducing plastics was becoming easier. She said: “People are becoming more aware of plastic and the negative effects. Suppliers are also a lot more aware”.

Plastic Free Penzance’s next moves include setting up a plastic-free clinic to spread the word further and speaking to holiday home owners. They will also lobby local supermarket managers, although the emphasis is on changing behaviour on a local level and leaving national campaigning to SAS leaders.

To win the plastic free coastlines approved status, Penzance had to complete five objectives set out by SAS such as setting up a steering group and organising beach cleans. Its status was confirmed after Penzance town council passed a motion on Monday pledging to support all plastic-free initiatives in the area and to lead by example through removing single-use plastics from their own premises.

Sourcewww.theguardian.com

Google Reaches 100% Renewable Energy Goal By End Of 2017

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Google has reached its goal to run on 100-percent renewable energy by the end of this year. Sealing the deal was the company’s move to sign onto three wind-generated power plants, which boost Google’s operating capacity up to three gigawatts. The landmark achievement continues a trend of tech giants diving into the renewable energy industry.

Contracts for the additional 535 megawatts of capacity came from two 98-megawatt wind plants in South Dakota, a 200-megawatt wind farm in Iowa, and a 138-megawatt plant in Oklahoma, according to Sam Arons, senior leader at Google’s Energy and Infrastructure division.

More than $3.5 billion worth of investments have been put into the renewable energy infrastructure for Google. The lion’s share of that money was put into solar and wind-powered energy sources, as those prices have dropped significantly; by as much as 60 to 80 percent. The investments have ensured no interruption in Google’s products and services while completely eliminating the need for fossil fuels.

“With solar and wind declining dramatically in cost and propelling significant employment growth, the transition to clean energy is driving unprecedented economic opportunity and doing so faster than we ever anticipated,” Gary Demasi, Google’s global infrastructure director, said in a company statement.

Google announced its target date operating at 100-percent off renewable energy in a blog post last December by Urs Holzle, senior VP of the technical infrastructure. At the time, the company had already purchased 20 different renewable energy sources around the world. Two-thirds of them are in the United States, and the company reports already seeing a return of “tens of millions of dollars” annually to property owners and the government.

While Google’s engineers have been able to improve the efficiency of data centers and office programs — up to 50 percent less energy being utilized — they continue looking for ways to help the company cut down on its carbon footprint. Holzle noted that by switching over to renewable energy, Google had a more stable price to pay for power as traditional methods will inevitably cost more in the future.

Google’s investments will help the communities that host the renewable energy sources, as well. Avangrid, who operates the wind farms in South Dakota, said the economy would improve from the influx of jobs to rural areas there. While Google’s power would still be coming from the grid, renewable energy credits will be matched to what’s generated from the source in order to reach the company’s target.

Other corporate giants have stepped into the renewable energy market, as well. Apple recently launched a store that’s completely powered by renewable energy, and is pushing to get operations at that level. Amazon has installed a 253-megawatt wind farm in Scurry County, Texas, to help operations become 100-percent renewable. Striving to reach half that mark by the end of 2017, Amazon is well on its way with four wind farms located in Indiana, North Carolina, and Ohio.

Sourcewww.greenmatters.com

 

World Soil Day

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World Soil Day (WSD) is held annually on 5 December as a means to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and advocating for the sustainable management of soil resources.

An international day to celebrate Soil was recommended by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) in 2002. Under the leadership of the Kingdom of Thailand and within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership, FAO has supported the formal establishment of WSD as a global awareness raising platform. The FAO Conference unanimously endorsed World Soil Day in June 2013 and requested its official adoption at the 68th UN General Assembly. In December 2013 the UN General Assembly responded by designating 5 December 2014 as the first official World Soil Day.

The date of 5 December for WSD was chosen because it corresponds with the official birthday of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, who officially sanctioned the event. In 2016 this day was officially recognized in memory and with respect for this beloved monarch who passed away in October 2016 after seven decades as head of state.

  • World Soil Day 2016

FAO/GSP dedicated World Soil Day 2016 to the theme Soils & Pulses: Symbiosis for life, in celebration of the synergy between the International Year of Soils (IYS) 2015 and the International Year of Pulses (IYP) 2016. There are various ways in which the “strategic alliance” between soils and pulses contributes to forging more sustainable food and agriculture systems. The book “Soils & Pulses: Symbiosis for life”, presents decision-makers and practitioners with scientific facts and technical recommendations for managing the symbiosis between soils and pulses.

  • World Soil Day 2015

FAO was nominated to implement the International Year of Soil (IYS) 2015, within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with FAO member countries. The theme for World Soil Day 2015 was “Healthy soils for a healthy life“.

Special focus was placed on increasing awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions. Soils are a critical component of the natural system and a vital contributor to human wellbeing through its contribution to food, water and energy security and mitigation of biodiversity loss. It was celebrated by the global community of 60.000 soil scientists charged with the responsibility of generating and communicating soil knowledge for the common good of all.

  • World Soil Day 2014

The soils community could really contribute to the efforts of food security, hunger eradication, climate change adaptation, poverty reduction and sustainable development

This is how FAO and the GSP secretariat started their words of welcome during the first official celebration of World Soil Day… Soil specialists, politicians, leading experts, and top officials from all across the globe convened at FAO headquarters to emphasize the importance of soils beyond the soil science community.

  • World Soil Day 2013 and 2012

Recognizing the importance of soils, under the framework of the Global Soil Partnership and with the unanimous support of FAO members, the 37th FAO Conference endorsed 5th December as WSD and requested the UN General Assembly to provide its final endorsement. Since then the soils community has an important opportunity as soils are placed high in global discussions.

Sourcewww.fao.org

 

Afghanistan Is Investing In Solar Power To Give More Citizens Electricity

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Afghanistan has big demand for power. Just 15 years ago, only five percent of the country’s citizens had access to electricity, and while today just 32 percent of people have access to grid-connected power, the demand is growing by 25 percent annually, putting pressure on the nation to up their power supply.

This, however, is a pricey problem: Afghanistan imports 73 percent of its power from surrounding countries. So in 2008, the government allocated $2 billion to expand its onsite energy capabilities, including through conventional means like coal. But a large portion of the money will be spent on more eco-friendly solutions: wind and solar.

For the latter, the Asian Development Bank has announced that it will spend $45 million on a 20-megawatt solar power plant in Kabul’s Surobi district. The country’s total demand for power is about 3 gigawatts, with domestic generation at 300 megawatts, so while the solar power plant will solve just a portion of the problem, it’s a telling turn of events for renewables.

The demand for power is rapidly growing across Afghanistan,” Samuel Tumiwa, a country director at The Asian Development bank said in the statement. “The new on-grid solar power generation project, which is the largest of its kind in Afghanistan, will not only provide access to a clean and reliable power supply, but also demonstrate the viability of future renewable energy investments”.

The plant will generate at least 43,000 megawatts-hours of power and will offset the equivalent of 13,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the first year after it is complete, which should be about 18 months after final contracts are signed, a spokesman of government-owned utility Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat told Bloomberg. Once completed, it will satisfy part of the electricity needs for Kabul as well as the eastern province of Nangarhar and Laghman.

This turn towards solar makes sense on several levels for Afghanistan. For one, the cost of solar equipment is rapidly declining (prices for solar panels have dropped 62 percent over the past five years, according to Bloomberg) as popularity grows and systems become more efficient. Now, what was once seen as an expensive way to create power is a viable option for developing countries looking to build out their infrastructure.

Plus, Afghanistan has an abundance of sunlight.

“Considering 300 sunny days per year with free solar irradiation to generate solar power, it makes Afghanistan an attractive country for implementing solar power projects,” Finance Minister Eklil Hakimi said in the statement.

Though the plant in Kabul will be the largest in the country, it’s not the first. In September, Dynasty Oil & Gas PVT Ltd. of India began construction on a 10-megawatt solar power plant in southern Kandahar city, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Additionally, the country is looking to capture an estimated 158 gigawatts of wind energy as part of its master energy plan.

Sourcewww.greenmatters.com

Costa Rica Runs On Green Energy For Record Breaking 300 Days

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In addition to being a gorgeous tropical paradise and beloved tourist destination, Costa Rica is putting itself on the map with huge steps towards becoming as environmentally conscious as possible. The country has been working to grow its forest cover, it has banned single use plastic, and as of now, they’ve run almost entirely on renewable energy for 300 days.

EcoWatch reports that the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE) is celebrating their accomplishment, citing numbers provided by the National Center for Energy Control which say that things have been operating on almost 100 percent renewable power.

This isn’t the first time Costa Rica has sustained a renewable energy streak. In 2015, they went 299 days, and in 2016 they did slightly less at 271. They’ve beaten both accomplishments and could easily go further before the end of 2017.

This year, Costa Rica’s renewable energy was split between different sources. Hydropower provided 78.26 percent of electricity, wind gave an estimated 10.29 percent, and 10.23 percent came from geothermal energy. Just 0.84 percent came combined from biomass and solar power. 

ICE noted that 2017 may see growth in one of those sectors—wind. The country’s 16 wind farms produced 1,014.82 gigawatt hours, which is a big growth in that sector. Costa Rica’s commitment to renewable energy is paying off in practice, and showing the potential in clean energy sources everywhere.

Sourcewww.greenmatters.com

Mexico creates vast new ocean reserve to protect ‘Galapagos of North America’

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Mexico’s government has created the largest ocean reserve in North America around a Pacific archipelago regarded as its crown jewel. The measures will help ensure the conservation of marine creatures including whales, giant rays and turtles. The protection zone spans 57,000 sq miles (150,000 sq km) around the Revillagigedo islands, which lie 242 miles (390 km) south-west of the Baja California peninsula.

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, announced the decision in a decree that also bans mining and the construction of new hotels on the islands. He said on Saturday that the decree reaffirmed the country’s “commitment to the preservation of the heritage of Mexico and the world”.

The four volcanic islands that make up the Revillagigedo archipelago, called the Galapagos of North America, are part of a submerged volcanic mountain range. The surrounding waters, east of Hawaii, are home to hundreds of species of animals and plants, including rays, humpback whales, sea turtles, lizards and migratory birds. The local ecosystem is central to the lives of some 400 species of fish, sharks and ray that depend on the nutrients drawn up by the ocean. The area is a breeding ground for commercially fished species such as tuna and sierra. However, the various fish populations had suffered, unable to reproduce fast enough for the rate at which they were fished.

The creation of a marine reserve is expected to help them to recover, as all fishing activities will now be prohibited. This will be policed by the Mexican navy. The news has been praised by WWF, the conservation organisation. Mario Gómez, executive director of Beta Diversidad, a Mexican environment charity that has supported the reserve’s creation, also welcomed the move.

“We are proud of the protection we will provide to marine life in this area, and for the preservation of this important centre of connectivity of species migrating throughout the Pacific,” Gómez said.

Matt Rand, director of the Pew Bertarelli ocean legacy project, told HuffPost that the reserve was “biologically spectacular” and commended the Mexican government. “It wasn’t an easy decision because they had significant opposition from the commercial fishing industry, which I think is unfortunate,” Rand said. “I would love to see a commercial industry embrace this notion that certain areas should be protected.”

The United Nations convention on biological diversity aims to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020.

However, some experts argue that protecting 30% of the world’s oceans from exploitation and harm would be a more appropriate goal in the drive for a more sustainable planet. Just 6% of the global ocean has been set aside as marine protected areas or been earmarked for future protection.

Sourcetheguardian.com