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Category: Environment & Nature (page 1 of 4)

Journey into the sacred headwaters of northern British Columbia

Three friends set off on a 400 km biking and packraft expedition through the heart of the sacred headwaters in northwestern British Columbia, birthplace of three critical salmon rivers, and home to the Tahltan people. In the wake of the devastating Mount Polley Mine disaster, the team’s goal is to understand what is at stake as a wave of new mines are developed across this remote corner of the province.

Their journey offers an exciting and sobering window into this wild landscape as they pedal through vast boreal forest, paddle frigid whitewater, battle monster trout, outrun a grizzly, learn about the Tahltan’s fight to protect their homeland and glimpse inside a massive open pit mine.

More at salmonbeyondborders.org

Why meat may be the worst food in the world

Overfishing, hunting, and pollution are putting pressure on Puffins, but climate change may prove to be the biggest challenge.

Puffins are in trouble.

The birds have been in precipitous decline, especially since the 2000s, both in Iceland and across many of their Atlantic habitats. The potential culprits are many: fickle prey, overfishing, pollution. Scientists say that climate change is another underlying factor that is diminishing food supplies and is likely to become more important over time. And the fact that puffins are tasty, and thus hunted as game here, hardly helps.

Read more at the NY Times (paywall)

Goats prefer happy faces

Goats can differentiate between human facial expressions and prefer to interact with happy people, according to a new study led by scientists at Queen Mary University of London.

The study, which provides the first evidence of how goats read human emotional expressions, implies that the ability of animals to perceive human facial cues is not limited to those with a long history of domestication as companions, such as dogs and horses.

Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team describe how 20 goats interacted with images of positive (happy) and negative (angry) human facial expressions and found that they preferred to look and interact with the happy faces.

Read more at Phys.org

Miami’s drinking water is under threat

Barring a stupendous reversal in greenhouse gas emissions, the rising Atlantic will cover much of Miami by the end of this century. The economic effects will be devastating: Zillow Inc. estimates that six feet of sea-level rise would put a quarter of Miami’s homes underwater, rendering $200 billion of real estate worthless. But global warming poses a more immediate danger: The permeability that makes the aquifer so easily accessible also makes it vulnerable. “It’s very easy to contaminate our aquifer,” says Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, a local environmental protection group. And the consequences could be sweeping. “Drinking water supply is always an existential question.”

County officials agree with her. “The minute the world thinks your water supply is in danger, you’ve got a problem,” says James Murley, chief resilience officer for Miami-Dade, although he adds that the county’s water system remains “one of the best” in the U.S. The questions hanging over Miami and the rest of Southeast Florida are how long it can keep its water safe, and at what cost. As the region struggles with more visible climate problems, including increasingly frequent flooding and this summer’s toxic algae blooms, the risks to the aquifer grow, and they’re all the more insidious for being out of sight. If Miami-Dade can’t protect its water supply, whether it can handle the other manifestations of climate change won’t matter.

More at Bloomberg

The cost of being cool: Air-conditioners do great good, but at a high environmental cost

There are many benefits to staying cool. Including saving lives. But it doesn’t come without a price.

At the moment, only 8% of the 3bn people in the tropics have air-conditioning, compared with over 90% of households in America and Japan. But eventually, it will be near universal because so many trends are converging behind its spread: ageing, since old people are more vulnerable to heat stroke; urbanisation, since fields cannot be air-conditioned but offices and factories must be; and economic growth, since, after mobile phones, the middle class in emerging markets want fans or air-conditioners next. Even the proliferation of skyscrapers in the developing world’s megacities encourages air-conditioners. Because tall buildings have different air pressures at top and bottom, they usually have to be sealed, and cooled in summer. Shopping malls, open-plan offices and data-processing centres are all inconceivable without air-conditioning.

Environmentalists fret about this. An article in the Washington Post excoriated “the deluded world of air-conditioning”. Another in the New York Times castigated buildings so cold in summer that “I could preserve dead bodies in the office.” Yet air-conditioning makes people, literally, healthier, wealthier and wiser. A study by Tord Kjellstrom of Australian National University found that, in South-East Asia, people without cooling could not work during 15-20% of working hours. It was too darned hot. Solomon Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley calculated that, in the Caribbean and Central America, GDP falls by 1% for each degree above 26°C. In the tropics, cooling boosts productivity.

The same goes for learning. A recent study in PLOS Medicine, a weekly journal, by Jose Guillermo Cedeño of Harvard University, followed two groups of college students in Boston during the summer of 2016. Those living in air-conditioned rooms did significantly better in a variety of cognitive tests than their peers in uncooled digs. Studies in Denmark showed that air-conditioning schools improved children’s ability to learn mathematics and languages.

More at The Economist

Arctic’s strongest sea ice breaks up for first time on record

The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up, opening waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen, even in summer.

This phenomenon – which has never been recorded before – has occurred twice this year due to warm winds and a climate-change driven heatwave in the northern hemisphere.

One meteorologist described the loss of ice as “scary”. Others said it could force scientists to revise their theories about which part of the Arctic will withstand warming the longest.

More at The Guardian

Recycling is ineffective, inefficient, expensive, and legitimizes single-use items

The Walrus:

Of the three Rs drilled into our heads in school—reduce, reuse, recycle—recycling is the only one that most of us regularly practise. In 2011, according to a survey by Stewardship Ontario, three-quarters of Ontarians considered the weekly act of sorting and disposing as their “primary environmental effort.”

But as much as Canadians love the blue box, “its role in [our] hearts and minds…is much larger than its actual environmental impact,” wrote Dianne Saxe, Ontario’s environmental commissioner, in a report last October. In fact, recycling is one of the least environmentally friendly “environmental” things one can do.

Devastating toxic red tide algae bloom plagues Florida’s Gulf Coast

Associated Press:

The algae turns the water toxic for marine life, and in recent weeks beachgoers have been horrified to find turtles, large fish like goliath grouper and even manatees wash up dead. In late July, a 26-foot long (8-meter-long) whale shark washed ashore on Sanibel Island, which is known for its pristine beaches. In places like Longboat Key, more than 5 tons of dead fish have been removed from beaches. This week, nine dead dolphins were found in Sarasota County, and marine biologists are investigating whether the deaths are related to red tide.

The Florida Wildlife Research Institute says the number of dead and stranded sea turtles is nearly three times higher than average. More than 450 stranded and dead sea turtles have been recovered in four affected counties this year, and the institute estimates that 250 to 300 died from red tide poisoning.

More:

How climate change is making ‘red tide’ algal blooms even worse – Washington Post (paywall)

Florida Declares State Of Emergency As Red Tide Spreads – Huffington Post via Yahoo

Florida’s Gulf Coast Battles Deadly And Smelly Red Tide – NPR

Is Germany running out of beer bottles because of climate change?

NPR:

In Germany, beer consumption is up as temperatures remain unusually high. This is good and bad news for the beer industry.

While the breweries have more than enough beer to go around, they’re running out of bottles because customers are not returning their empties quickly enough.

Germans care about the environment about as much as their beer; that’s why the glass bottles are recycled. Customers pay a small deposit on each one, which they get back when they return it to a store.

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