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ANOTHER PLANET?

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore

In the USA Democrats have promised to try to thwart the appointment of Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, amid fears within the agency that he will trigger an “unprecedented disaster” for America’s environment and public health. Donald Trump has nominated Pruitt to lead an agency he has sued multiple times in his role as attorney general of Oklahoma. Pruitt has vowed to dismantle serried environmental rules and is currently involved in a legal effort by 27 states to overturn Barack Obama’s clean power plan, the president’s centerpiece policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Giraffes have seen a 38% decline in their numbers since 1985, falling from about 157,000 to 97,500 today. They sadly join the “red list” compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has also added more than 700 newly recognised bird species, but 13 of these are already extinct. But there is good news in the list as well with the rediscovery of a few species thought to have been lost, such a Madagascan freshwater fish which had not been seen since the 1960s, and the recovery of the Seychelles white-eye bird after conservation efforts.

Google’s data centres and the offices for its 60,000 staff will be powered entirely by renewable energy from next year, in what the company has called a “landmark moment”. The Guardian reports that the internet giant is already the world’s biggest corporate buyer of renewable electricity, last year buying 44% of its power from wind and solar farms. Now it will be 100%, and an executive said it would not rule out investing in nuclear power in the future, too.

Paris had a second day of free public transport due to a spike in air pollution – and some cars were barred from the roads. The city is suffering its worst and most prolonged winter pollution for at least 10 years, the Airparif agency which measures the levels said on Wednesday. In the week Authorities said only drivers with odd-numbered registration plates can drive in the capital region on Wednesday. Drivers of even-numbered cars were given the same opportunity on Tuesday, but could now be fined up to €35 if they are caught behind the wheel. More than 1,700 motorists were fined for violations on Tuesday. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said images of smog blanketing the capital were proof of the need to reduce vehicle use in the city centre.

London mayor Sadiq Khan will  more than double funding to clean up the capital’s dirty air. London is one of the most polluted of dozens of cities in the UK that breach EU standards on nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic gas caused by diesel vehicles. Air pollution has been linked to nearly 9,500 premature deaths in the city each year. Funding for air quality measures over the next five years will be more than doubled to £875m, under new plans, up from the £425m committed under the former mayor Boris Johnson. Khan will has also promised to spend £770m on cycling initiatives over the course of his term, saying he wants to make riding a bike the “safe and obvious” transport choice for all Londoners.

Two prestigious organisations have warned that England may have tipped into deforestation, with more trees being cut down than planted for the first time in possibly 40 years. “We are only planting 700 hectares (1,730 acres) a year, almost certainly less than we are felling,” said Austin Brady, the conservation director of the Woodland Trust charity which, with commercial forestry groups, wants government to pledge to meet its planting targets at a parliamentary debate. Stuart Goodall, chief executive of Confor, the trade association for the UK forestry industry, said planting was at its lowest level in England in more than 40 years. “Forests are being lost to development and infrastructure; we are cutting a lot and planting so few, so it may be that England is technically deforesting,” said Goodall. More here.

The level of household waste which is recycled in the UK has fallen for the first time, figures have shown. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs statistics show that 44.3% of household rubbish was recycled in 2015, down from 44.9% in 2014. It is the first fall since 2010 when monitoring began, though is still the second-highest annual rate on record. Waste company Biffa Municipal warned that recyclables that are not clean (where they are contaminated) can cause “lorry-loads” to be rejected. There is a European Union target for the UK to recycle at least 50% of household waste by 2020.
People working in green buildings think better in the office and sleep better when they get home, a new study has revealed. The research indicates that better ventilation, lighting and heat control improves workers’ performance and could boost their productivity by thousands of dollars a year. It also suggests that more subjective aspects, such as beautiful design, may make workers happier and more productive. An increasing number of green buildings are being constructed by developers as the cost and health benefits become better known, but this the first study to show such buildings can make their occupants brainier. The research analysed workers in certified green buildings in five US cities and compared them with other workers in the same cities employed in different offices owned by the same companies.

The world’s most widely used insecticides harm the ability of bees to vibrate flowers and shake out the pollen to fertilise crops, according to preliminary results from a new study. Some flowers, such as those of crops like tomatoes and potatoes, must be shaken to release pollen and bumblebees are particularly good at creating the buzz needed to do this. But the research shows that bumblebees exposed to realistic levels of a neonicotinoid pesticide fail to learn how to create the greatest buzz and collect less pollen as a result. The research is consistent with previous work that has shown neonicotinoid pesticides reduce learning and memory in bees. A moratorium on the use of three neonicotinoids on flowering crops was put in place in Europe in 2013 and will be reviewed next year.

The rogue practice of removing vital pollution filters from the exhausts of diesel vehicles has suffered a blow with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for the first time banning an advert for the service.

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ANOTHER PLANET?

solar powerLondon Mayor Boris Johnson has warned that the the power stations that feed the capital are working at full capacity and that London faces blackouts caused by population growth. Energy watchdog Ofgem says that maximum capacity could be just 2% above demand peak demand in 2015.  Mr Johnson has given drivers of diesel vehicles six years notice that he will then implement a additional £10 per day charge for diesel cars vehicles. An air pollution monitoring station on London’s Oxford Street has recorded one of the highest levels of NO2 in the world – nitrogen dioxide is linked to 7,000 UK deaths each year. The average central London reading is three times the EU’s limit.

The White House has warned that delaying action on climate change would carry a heavy price, racking up an additional 40% in economic losses from climate impacts and other costs over the course of 10 years.White House officials said the stark finding from the president’s council of economic advisers underlined the urgency of Barack Obama’s efforts to cut carbon pollution. In addition to a new report on the economic cost of delay, the White House is poised to launch two new initiatives on Tuesday dealing with fast-rising methane emissions from the natural gas industry, and buffering food security against future climate change.  “We are pushing across the board on the elements of the climate action plan,” John Podesta, Obama’s counsellor, told a conference call with reporters.

Sainsburys have launched a new cycle friendly lorry with proximity sensors and 360 degree video vision, side guard extensions and more indicators along the sides and extra lights to illuminate the tarmac around the lorries. Seven lorries are ready to roll, with nine more in the pipeline with a Nationwide roll out over 5 years.

waspThe current heatwave in the UK has been very beneficial to fruit and flowers – and with many fruits ripening ahead of schedule – marvellous for wasps! Biting and stinging insects like midges, wasps and ticks –  are multiplying in the warm weather – after a warm 2013-2014 winter which did little to curb numbers. The NHS has reported a big uplift in enquiries and says this – “buzzing bees, marching ants and swarms of midges are becoming as much a part of the British summer as deckchairs, picnics and ice creams.  The warm winter was also beneficial to gas bills – down 25% on average in the “UK!

It has transpired that research into whether the ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides (which are thought to be harmful to bees, our main pollinators and vital to the Nation) may be biased – as its being funded by pesticide manufacturers. The House of Commons environmental audit committee says that Defra’s reliance on manufacturer funded research shows its ‘excessive reliance on commercial (rather than scientific) priorities. As Rizzle Kicks’ Jordan told Q Magazine: “Bees are almost honourable, man. Firstly they create some sweet, sweet honey. Which is fucking GREAT. Thanks, bees, for the honey. And if they sting you they die, so when it comes to stinging, they’re really passionate about what they do” adding “They’re like passionate artists. Bees are like painters. All they do is give and give and give, and sometimes they give too much”.

Fracking rules in the UK are to be tightened to avoid damaging areas of outstanding natural beauty. National Parks, world heritage sites and the Broads.  The move was welcomed by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England  but was criticised by the oil and gas industries who say the risks of fracking to the environment and water supplies are low.  But despite overwhelming opposition to the government’s plans to expanding fracking across Britain expressed by interest groups during an official consultation, ministers have signalled a go-ahead for shale gas drilling around the country. The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s report on the government’s Strategic Environmental Assessment of its nationwide fracking plan recorded a wide range of objections, including from bodies such as Public Health England and the Natural England.  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/28/fracking-expansion-shale-gas-opposition-britain?CMP=EMCENVEML1631.

New models by Renault and Volvo helped sales of electric cars in the European Union double in 2013, but the zero-emission vehicles still only account for one in every 250 new cars sold. Electric cars are a crucial part of government policies tackling both air pollution and climate change, but car manufacturers have lobbied hard against rules to cut emissions.

India’s Adami Group has won approval from the Australian Governmentto build one of the world’s biggest coal mines – which could threaten the Great barrier reef as the Abbot Point port would be enlarged The Carmichael coal and rail project in Queensland will produce 60 million tonnes of coal each year for export, mostly to India. The Government has said conditions have been imposed to prevent the environment being damaged and water supplies being compromised.

DRAX POWERAn interesting article in the Times ‘Opinion’ pages on Monday 28th July 2014 by Matt Ridley, a man usually so biased against green energy his comments are  not worth reading. Whilst this article has the usual dollop of anti green vitriol, it makes the good point that burning wood biomass instead of coal to generate electricity is not necessarily green and clean energy – especially of that wood comes from freshly harvested trees shipped over from North America.  The rest f the article is an ill thought out and blinkered  arrack on sustainable energy – but that doesn’t detract from the main point in ‘Another renewable myth goes up in smoke‘ – and comes on the back of news that Drax – who are converting their coal burning power stations to biomass in North Yorkshire – are fighting a government decision to remove new subsidies in the courts – and news that Drax also still receive a subsidy for the coal fired plants they still have  – the “capacity” subsidy to cover possible blackouts when there are dips in supplies from renewable energy sources such as wind farms. Bonkers? Unfortunately for Mr Ridley, new polling data reveals that almost half of UK voters see investing in renewables as a priority over any other form of energy when it comes to ensuring the nation’s energy security. Figures released last week by RenewableUK found that 48% of voters see investing in renewables as their number one priority for maintaining energy security – far ahead of the next most popular choice, building new nuclear reactors, which came in at 15%.

Nasa scientists have revealed an that an unreported near-miss eruption on the surface of the Sun could have devastated Earth and sent us back to the ’18th century’. The chilling report says that Earth was just one week away from disaster after two massive clouds of plasma happened to miss hitting the Earth’s atmosphere. The eruption, which was observed by Nasa’s space probe STEREO, occurred in July 2012. The clouds of plasma, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), were part of what is to date the biggest solar storm in 150 years. More on AOL.

Pangolin_borneoPangolins being eaten to extinction, conservationists have warned – Scaly anteaters are now the most illegally-traded mammal in the world for food and so called medicine, with all eight species listed as threatened in the Red List of endangered animals.

Kudzu  was first introduced to the U.S. at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, it has been swallowing the country from an epicenter in the South-East at the rate of about 50,000 baseball fields per year, occupying an estimated 3,000,000 hectares today. Kudzu can grow up to 60 feet per season, or about one foot per day. Kudzu is extremely bad for the ecosystems that it invades because it smothers other plants and trees under a blanket of leaves, hogging all the sunlight and keeping other species in its shade. It can also survive in low nitrogen areas and during droughts, allowing it to out-compete native species that don’t have those superpowers. The only other plants that can compete with kudzu are other invasive species, so that doesn’t really help…

“Green growth is more than just low carbon and renewable energies. From a technological point of view, renewables alone do not constitute a synergistic technology system. There is not enough technological convergence in knowledge, suppliers, engineering or skills between solar, wind, wave, geothermal or hydroelectric energy equipment. In order to benefit from all the potential synergies, the environmental challenge must be seen with a wider lens. Apart from the technologies that enable flexibility and interaction in the space of renewable energy, such as batteries, smart grids and the like, the green direction would have to encompass what can be termed green growth. This would include conservation; pollution control; reduction of material content per product; designing for durability; replacing products, possession and waste with services, rental and maintenance and recycling, respectively; promoting the flourishing of the creative economy; making cities more liveable and less polluting; revamping transport systems and the built environment; promoting collaborative and sharing economies; focusing on health (including preventive and personalised medicine);  and  promoting  all  forms  of  education,  in  and  out  of  schools.  This  type  of  growth  implies  a redefinition  of  the  optimal  production  practices  and  a  different  view  of  the  ‘good  life’,  shaping  the  desires  and  aspirations  of  the  majority.  In  other  words,  green  growth  involves  a  gradual transformation  of  the  entire  economy,  reversing  the  mass  production  and  consumption  patterns  of the  previous  revolution  and  making  it  cost effective  and  profitable  to  introduce  a  wide  range  of  innovative  changes  in  production  and  lifestyles  that  would  increase  sustainability  and  reduce  carbon,  while  improving  the  quality  of  life  for  all.” More on copyright and a green perspective can be found in   ‘Innovation ‘as Growth Policy: the challenge for Europe’ by Mariana Mazzucato & Carlota Perez, which can be found here

 

After raising a Gorilla in an English zoo, Damian Aspinall ventured out to the jungle where it was released to try to catch a glimpse of him, five years later. Not expecting the Gorrila, “Kwibi”, to recognize him, he was in for a major shock when they crossed paths: http://www.thefreeus.com/gorilla-saw-the-man-who-raised-him/

Two new reports on the global energy-water nexus have concluded that by 2040 there may not be enough water to meet both the world’s drinking water and energy generation demands. With large amounts of water required to generate energy from fossil fuels and nuclear, competing water and energy demands risk a combined water and energy crisis in the coming decades.  The reports estimate a 50% rise in water demands by 2030 driven increasingly by electricity generation which has the potential to leave a 40% gap between supply and demand in some parts of the world.  The data was collected by researchers from Vermont Law School and Aarhus University in Denmark.  The areas highlighted for particular water-stress were in Texas, India and Northern China. In India, 70% of power generation comes from low-quality coal and the World Resources Institute estimates that its water demand will outstrip supply by as much as 50% by 2030, with 79% of new electricity generation capacity expected to be built in water-scare or water-stressed are

tripadReview website TripAdvisor has launched a new online programme that will help travellers around the world plan greener trips by choosing European hotels and B&Bs based on their environmental credentials. The TripAdvisor GreenLeaders programme has awarded more than 6,000 qualifying accommodation businesses a ‘GreenLeader’ status based on a variety of sustainability practices including energy efficiency, recycling and water reduction.

Car clubs are set to receive a £500,000 funding boost, Transport Minister Baroness Kramer has announced. The funding will help to make more efficient use of the road and reduce transport related carbon emissions through support for two pilot car sharing programmes. Pay-as-you-go car use encourages people to walk and cycle and make use of public transport.  Baroness Kramer said: “Car clubs cut congestion, reduce carbon and save people money while still giving people the freedom and flexibility to use a car when they want to. Interest in car clubs is already gathering pace and we want to give that interest added momentum.

A cheap lighting concept which creates solar lanterns from plastic bottle waste is being trialled by designers in the hope it can be scaled up for commercial production.  Turkish creative firm Designnobis has developed what it calls ‘Infinite Light’ – a lantern made by reusing an empty plastic bottle and fitting it with a flexible solar panel and batteries. The solar panel sits inside the bottle and collects sunlight during the day. It then switches over to battery power at night once the solar energy has been depleted.  The lantern is held together by a frame, with a handle so that it can be hung up or carried around. The concept, which has already won an eco-innovation award, is intended to highlight the growing importance of waste materials as a resource.

British paper and technical fibres company and a Swedish forestry giant have unveiled a sustainable alternative to plastic which they claim is strong enough to carry the weight of an adult and can be composted within 100 days. DuraPulp was developed by James Cropper in partnership with Södra, a Swedish forestry cooperative. The bio-composite material is made from pulp and a renewable polymer which, after additional processing, becomes moisture resistant, rigid and strong enough to carry the weight of an adult.