Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

No seeds were lost but the ability of the rock vault to provide failsafe protection against all disasters is now threatened by climate change

By Damian Carrington

The Svalbard ‘doomsday’ seed vault was built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters. Photograph: John Mcconnico/AP

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”.

But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.

“A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C.

But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Aschim said. “We must see what we can do to minimise all the risks and make sure the seed bank can take care of itself.”

The vault’s managers are now waiting to see if the extreme heat of this winter was a one-off or will be repeated or even exceeded as climate change heats the planet. The end of 2016 saw average temperatures over 7C above normal on Spitsbergen, pushing the permafrost above melting point.

“The question is whether this is just happening now, or will it escalate?” said Aschim. The Svalbard archipelago, of which Spitsbergen is part, has warmed rapidly in recent decades, according to Ketil Isaksen, from Norway’s Meteorological Institute.

“The Arctic and especially Svalbard warms up faster than the rest of the world. The climate is changing dramatically and we are all amazed at how quickly it is going,” Isaksen told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.

The vault managers are now taking precautions, including major work to waterproof the 100m-long tunnel into the mountain and digging trenches into the mountainside to channel meltwater and rain away. They have also removed electrical equipment from the tunnel that produced some heat and installed pumps in the vault itself in case of a future flood.

Aschim said there was no option but to find solutions to ensure the enduring safety of the vault: “We have to find solutions. It is a big responsibility and we take it very seriously. We are doing this for the world.”

“This is supposed to last for eternity,” said Åsmund Asdal at the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre, which operates the seed vault.

Soylent Green as a Warning

Soylent Green is a 1973 film starring Charlton Heston and takes place in 2022, which is a dystopian nightmare. Greenhouse gasses have skyrocketed causing the environment to be unbearable – hot, humid, polluted – miserable all the time. Poverty and overpopulation has people starving piled up sleeping in doorways and the streets.

The lack of arable land has led to the only source of food being a high energy processed ocean plankton ration called Soylent Green produced by the Soylent Corporation. Now that the oceans are dying, the one last source of plankton based nutrition is threatened. The long and short of it is that the oceans are indeed dying threatening the source of Soylent Green such that – spoiler alert! – it will instead will be made of humans, the closest and most available protein source. What a great ending that was! “Soylent Green is people!” screams Heston.

At 90 degrees in mid-May in 2017, 2022 doesn’t seem so far off, and neither does this scenario no matter how exaggerated it may have seemed in 1966 when Harry Harrison wrote the book the movie is based on called “Make Room! Make Room!”.  Now, 50 years later, we are seeing the all too real life effects of too much CO2 in the atmosphere and the phrase “climate refugees” has already been used regarding China’s spreading deserts.

Like Fury Road where water is the source of conflict, the makers of that film made a point of mentioning if we do nothing, this will be our future. Again, it may seem far flung, but is it really? One’s priorities are put in perspective when one is faced with every day decisions.

I, for one, do not want to fight over water. Imagine it. Standing in line for water in the middle of Manhattan. Which would be ironic with the sea level rise scenarios we have seen. No more washing your dishes. No more long hot showers. No more flushing the toilet. Just thirst and discomfort and the threat of dehydration. What of those with medical conditions? The children and the elderly who can’t go without?

The answer is – don’t let it get that far. Be mindful of your consumption in advance of a dearth of resources and you won’t have a dearth of resources. It’s a simple equation that I think of every time I turn on the faucet or the air conditioning. Do more with less. You’ll barely notice the difference until it’s gone.

 

Unchecked Consumption is the Elephant in the Boardroom

Unchecked Consumption Is the Elephant in the Boardroom

Many businesses measure growth by selling more stuff to more people, and consumer markets are expected to expand in the decades ahead. The world is on pace to exceed 9.5 billion people by 2050, with far fewer living in poverty than today. Thanks to the rapid industrialization of developing countries including China, Brazil and India, 3 billion peopleare projected to join the global middle class in the next 15 years alone. These demographic shifts represent both a human development victory and an enormous business opportunity for those companies positioning to meet the needs of added consumers.

But there’s a catch: Current consumption patterns, even assuming efficiency improvements, put the global economy on an impossible trajectory. We would use three times as many natural resources by 2050 compared to what we used in 2000 — and what we are using today has already exceeded planetary boundaries.

Yet few, if any, companies are fundamentally rethinking the models by which they meet customer needs. This is the elephant in the boardroom — uncomfortable and unmentioned because the solution requires radical change.

Business leaders at the crossroads

Companies will not thrive if their growth strategies assume infinite supplies of finite resources. Likewise, without progress on global environmental challenges such as climate change, economic and social instability will undermine development around the world. Meanwhile, those businesses that remain stagnant will face more direct threats from the innovative business models that emerge to deliver more value with the resources available.

While some companies are already investing in cleaner and more efficient operations and goods — such as renewable energy and fuel-efficient cars — these steps fall short if core business models remain predicated on selling more things to more people, requiring more and more resources. Even with a significantly more resource-efficient economy, natural resource extraction would still increase by 40 percent by 2050, exacerbating global climate change, undermining sustainable development goals and posing other environmental risks.

That means that to meet consumer demand in 2050 — and grow earnings — companies must embrace changes to their core business models. Companies will need to rethink how they provide basic necessities, comforts and conveniences to billions more customers — without exceeding planetary boundaries.

Emerging models for a resource-strained world

Meeting the demands of a growing global middle class will mean innovating new products and services that deliver shareholder value and satisfy consumers’ needs in different ways.

For example, Gwynnie Bee and Rent the Runway are two clothing services that allow customers to rent rather than buy clothing, which can curb the wastefulness of fast fashion. Textile waste represented nearly 8 percent of all municipal solid waste in the United States in 2013. Scaling sharing models would dramatically reduce environmental damages caused by the apparel industry, which is responsible for 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent of global industrial water pollution.

Address the Elephant in the Boardroom

Moving away from unchecked resource consumption may be the defining sustainability challenge of our time, but even companies with laudable sustainability agendas tend to stop short of addressing today’s unsustainable consumption patterns. A review of 40,000 corporate sustainability reports between 2000 and 2014 found that only about 5 percent of companies mention some type of ecological limits. Of those, most did not provide detail on current or planned changes to address the issue.

Normalizing the conversation will lay the groundwork for pursuing new business models that allow growth within the planet’s limits and generate value in new and exciting ways. A new working paper from WRI The Elephant in the Boardroom: Why Unchecked Consumption Is Not an Option in Tomorrow’s Markets,can guide the conversation within companies and with stakeholders.

The choices that business leaders make today will define the future for generations to come.

New York Skyscrapers Adapt to Climate Change

The reach of the EPA is much longer than one thinks. It’s a comprehensive entity that effects infrastructure existing and new and climate change is having an effect on our planning for the present and the future. Architects building our skyscrapers and other buildings need to use all the information available to create climate change resistant buildings and the EPA provides that. Our basic safety and well being is at stake. “If the government stops collecting the data on flooding vulnerabilities, heat waves, then it’s going to be harder for the design and development communities to incorporate changes in their design,” Wilson said.

New York skyscrapers adapt to climate change

Catherine TRIOMPHE
AFP
NY scyscrapers adapt to climate changeIn a New York skyline crowded with skyscrapers the American Copper Buildings going up on the East River owes its difference to climate change (AFP Photo/DON EMMERT)

New York (AFP) – With a skyline crowded with ever-more luxury towers, the construction of another Manhattan skyscraper wouldn’t normally be remarkable.

But the American Copper Buildings going up on the East River — a complex of two towers with 764 apartments, panoramic views and a huge entrance hall with a doorman — is different.

Planned just after deadly Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York in October 2012 — sounding another alarm about the mounting effects of climate change — it was designed with new threats in mind, reflecting how the real estate world is evolving to account for global warming, in contrast to President Donald Trump’s moves to roll back environmental protection.

The huge storm killed more than 40 people in New York, paralyzing the US financial capital for days.

JDS, the company developing the American Copper Buildings, bought the land for the project around the same time.

“The whole thing was a lake, we could have toured the site in a canoe,” said Simon Koster, a principal at the company.

“We knew something like that would happen again,” he added. “So we said, ‘How can we make sure that if we lived here, we will not be facing that scenario?’ So we let the designers loose.”

– Tools to survive –

One of the main innovations was to ensure residents have access to electricity as long as possible in the event of an outage in the city.

Instead of planning an opulent penthouse on the top floor, the architects reserved space for big natural-gas generators designed to keep key equipment functioning if the power fails.

Although the machines are situated “in the most valuable real estate of this building,” Koster said, “it makes all the other units all the more valuable.”

“We are going to have more of these events, it’s just being strategic and smart about how you prepare for them,” architect Gregg Pasquarelli said.

“If we lose power, if you can go up and down in the elevator and your refrigerator works and you have one outlet available that you charge your phone on, you can probably survive in New York for a week,” he added.

Every kitchen has two electrical outlets — one reserved for refrigerators — connected to a back-up circuit fed by the generators. That means smartphones can be charged during a breakdown.

Traditionally relegated to the basement, the heating, ventilation and large electrical equipment have been installed on the first floor instead, more than 20 feet (seven meters) above the street to minimize the risk of flooding.

The main entrance hall is large and austere, with steel pillars and floor tiling designed for outside use.

Wood-paneled walls warm the atmosphere — but the open side panels can dry easily with no damage in the event of flooding.

The building’s cheapest studios will be available for rent starting from $3,000 a month, and include the luxury perks of access to a swimming pool and huge terrace with views of the Empire State Building in addition to the more prosaic bonus of flood resistance.

– Embracing resilience –

New York is embracing resilient architecture more than most cities in the country because its exorbitantly priced real estate drives up the financial stakes, says Alex Wilson, president of the Vermont-based Resilient Design Institute, which specializes in such issues.

Besides electricity, architects are also coming up with ways of providing drinking water — with accessible faucets for everyone now obligatory on lower floors — as well as maintaining reasonable temperatures.

In the event of a summer power outage, “a lot of condominiums are heavily glazed and would become inhabitable,” Wilson said.

The city is identifying the most vulnerable existing buildings for adaptation.

However, the obstacles for reconstructing older structures are greater than integrating flood resistance during the construction of new projects such as the Copper Buildings — and so are the costs — Wilson said.

Politics may also get in the way. The Trump administration plans to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, which may affect the collection of data to assess weak infrastructure.

“If the government stops collecting the data on flooding vulnerabilities, heat waves, then it’s going to be harder for the design and development communities to incorporate changes in their design,” Wilson said.

Still, he’s optimistic the government’s rejection of science about the effects of climate change will have only a temporary effect.

“The private sector is well aware of this, the insurance industry is increasingly aware of this and these industries will continue to drive progress in resilience.”

‘Tis the Season for Gratitude

‘Tis the Season for Gratitude

by Nicole Meyers and Erin McKinnon

http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc/html/home/home.shtml

In this the season of giving, it is difficult not to notice that all the “things” that make us happy and comfortable – food, shelter, water, warmth, gifts, parties, long distance travel to see our families – are all made from natural resources.

It’s been said before and I think it bears repeating – if you conserve you won’t have a dearth. Saving water prevents droughts. It’s a simple thing everyone can do and make a habit of in no time. Below is a list of simple things we can all do to conserve our valuable resources so we won’t want for them in the future.

Take any of these steps in addition to your usual shopping expedition and you have given more than a gift. You have taken a step in preserving their and your futures in anticipation of many more happy holiday seasons to come!

https://www.terrapass.com/

Next time you fly, check to see if your airline has voluntary carbon-offset program. Airline companies such as Delta, United, Virgin, Air Canada, Brussels, Srilankan Airways, Lufthansa, Kenya Airways, Cathay Pacific, SAS, Thai AIrways, TAP Portugal and more, give passengers the opportunity to buy carbon offsets for their flight.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car also allows you to purchase carbon offsets for your trip when you book a car. Interested in a carpool on your way to work? Enterprise’s RideShare program provides a van-pooling service that helps commuters get to work in a more cost and fuel efficient way. .

For individuals or businesses interested in buying carbon offsets or renewable energy credits, check out TerraPass, The Carbon Fund, The Climate Trust or Native Energy. You can purchase a one-time package or subscribe monthly, and there is a diverse range of high-impact projects to choose from. You can invest in energy efficiency, forestry, renewable energy, grassland conservation or other carbon-reducing projects with social and environmental benefits.  These organizations also feature online carbon calculators for those who want to track their carbon footprint.

http://www.americanforests.org/

Plant a tree through The American Forests organization, or give a tree as a gift. Trees are a meaningful way to to protect our forests. With your support, American Forests can plant trees in forests across the country and around the world that are in need of restoration.

The Nature Conservancy is a worldwide organization that is devoted to lands and water conservation. Their local New York Chapter has endless opportunities to encourage people get involved and protect and New York. Browse here for upcoming events throughout the state. If you are unable to attend, you can become a digital volunteer by joining their global community by following them on Facebook and Twitter, and sharing your posts with your friends.

The U.S. Water Alliance is an organization devoted to advancing water policy and programs that sustain this essential resource. According to their 2016 U.S. report, every American uses an average 176 gallons of water per day. That is over 64,000 gallons a year. There are many water-saving measures that individuals can take to minimise their usage. Simple things like turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth or wash your hands, or filling up your sink with water, instead of letting it run the whole time you wash the dishes.

http://www.worldwildlife.org/

The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) offers a species adoption program where individuals can make a donation to protect an animal of their choice.  All adoption kits support the WWF’s global efforts to protect wild animals and their habitats. Amongst the options include african elephants, three-toed sloths, flamingos, narwhals, octopuses, llamas, and many more.

Recycling is a fundamental way to take care of the planet. Terracycle offers free recycling programs funded by brands, manufacturers, and retailers to help individuals and businesses collect and recycle your hard-to-recycle waste. You can choose the programs you want to join, start collecting in your home, school, or office, download a free shipping labels, and send in your waste to be recycled. You can also earn rewards for your school or favorite non-profit. Companies that work with Terracycle include Brita, Colgate, Yankee Candle, and Pepsico. You can also send in your binders, cigarette waste, snack bags, and personal beauty products.

Donate food, funds, or your time at City Harvest, an organization that combats hunger in New York City. Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities near you. City Harvest also rescues food from all segments of the food industry including restaurants, wholesalers, green markets, bakeries, caterers, hospitals and corporate cafeterias, as well as canned food drives. Donors who have 50 pounds or more of food can schedule a pick-up on an call-in basis. If you have a donation that you would like picked up, you can call 646.412.0758.

https://www.cityharvest.org/
Toys for Tots is a nationwide program that distributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts for Christmas. You can make a monetary donation, or donate a toy at a designated drop-off location.

This year marks the 10th annual Burlington Coat Factory “Warm Coats and Warm Hearts” Coat Drive. You can donate a gently worn coat at any Burlington location across the country through January 23, 2017 and receive 10% off your entire purchase.

http://www.toysfortots.org/default.aspx

 

 

 

 

Conservation is the Key to Longevity

Conservation is the Key to Longevity

By Nicole Meyers

old-new-york

It’s hard to imagine that before New York City became a concrete jungle, it was just a jungle. Manhattan’s natural state of ecology boasted biological and ecological diversity that supported wildlife and sustained humans for thousands of years. There were valleys, forests, fields, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, beaches, springs, ponds and streams. It was home to bears, wolves, songbirds, and salamanders. Fish, porpoises and whales swam in the harbor. Then the Europeans came along. In 1609, the wild and lush landscape became increasingly industrialized, and the land’s primitive ecology gave way to an urbanization.

Nature in New York City still exists. On the outskirts of our urbanized city center, New York’s natural areas continue to support diverse plant and wildlife populations. In the face of rapid development, resource conservation has been a pulsing matter.  A number of key organizations have emerged to preserve new york’s natural habitat through advocating for coastal restoration, forest conservation, neighborhood parks, gardens, and green spaces.

A number of key organizations have emerged to preserve new york’s natural habitat.  The Natural Areas Conservancy (NAC), partners with NYC Parks to restore and conserve 10,000 acres of forests, meadows, and wetlands citywide. NAC was founded on the idea that our city’s ecological health is critical to it’s greatness.  They work across all five boroughs to ensure healthy forests through tree plantings and long-term management, improve coastal resilience by rebuilding dunes and marshes, and motivate New Yorkers to get outside through volunteer events, tours, and lectures. Click here to learn more about NAC’s upcoming events.

central-park
The Nature Conservancy also plays a vital role in protecting New York’s green heart. Addressing land conservation on a larger scale, The Nature Conservancy is the leading organization working around the world to protect lands and waters. Their New York City chapter provides a number urban conservation programs that aim to make the city more livable, such as their recent project in Jamaica Bay. In partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), The Nature Conservancy has launched a collaborative project to improve the ecological health of habitats and increase resiliency at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area in Queens. Land management strategies on coastal park lands is fundamental to enhancing our city’s resilience to climate change.

Founded in 1995 by singer and songwriter Bette Midler, The New York Restoration Project (NYRP) is dedicated to transforming open space into green space in low-income communities citywide. In fact, NYRP is the only conservancy for under-resourced communities. They provide free environmental education for all ages that teach New Yorkers about composting, sustainable horticulture, and native plants. They also work to restore and maintain community gardens throughout the five boroughs. Click here to find a garden in your neighborhood!

eliz-st-garden

 

 

 

Urban Design Adapts to Climate Change

Urban Design Adapts to Climate Change

by Nicole Meyers

sea-leve-rise-nyc

The ever-popular “rising sea levels, disappearing ice caps, and drowning polar bear” discourse has been the poster board narrative for environmental impacts of global warming. The Arctic’s geographic isolation and distance led to the misconception that sea-rise is only pertinent in places like the North and South Pole, or in small islands like the Maldives. In reality, sea rise occurs on every coast. This detachment from what is happening in other parts of the world feeds into the denial that New York will face a similar future– a future under water. In New York Magazine’s September issue, Andrew Rice wakes his readers up to the fact that the future is a lot closer than we think.  His article “This IS New York: In the Not-So-Distant Future,” warns society that climate change is the single greatest threat to our city,  and New Yorkers must acknowledge the impending ecological crisis before it’s too late. Coastlines worldwide are vulnerable. Given that Manhattan is an island, and New York City has 520 miles of coastland, it might not be long before our buildings are under water too.

A report by New York City Panel on Climate Change argues that sea level rise poses an even greater challenge for coastal New York. The report projects sea levels around New York City will rise 11 to 21 inches by the middle of the century, 18 to 39 inches by the 2080s, and up to 6 feet by 2100. Average sea levels have risen about 1.2 inches per decade in the city since 1900, or about 1.1 feet overall, according to the report. This is almost twice the average global rate of 0.5 to 0.7 inches per decade. This Risk Zone Map Here is a surging sea map that allows you to visualize what N ew York City will look like in the future and the long-term local consequences of different carbon pollution scenarios.

The effects of New York City’s sea level rise are already being felt. New York City has lost a tremendous amount of wetland area. The disastrous impacts of Hurricane Sandy were a painful wake-up call for how critical wetlands landscape are for retaining storm water and flood control. Sea level rise alone will lead to an increased frequency and intensity of coastal flooding as the century progresses. Beyond environmental impacts, sea level rise will bring social consequences as well. About 400,000 New Yorkers live within the current 100-year floodplain, which is more than any other U.S. city, including New Orleans.

manhattanlexingtonave_wzohaibflickrnhcreport
Advancing Waters, which creates landscape metrics by leveraging data from the 2010 Census, the National Elevation Dataset, and the NYC Selected Facilities and Program Sites data sets to visualize the potential scenarios of sea level rise. Their goal is to illustrates exactly what that means for the city’s residents and its infrastructure. Their maps show that at an elevation of five feet, sea-level rise could impact about 34 schools, 80 transportation sites, and 30 waste-management facilities.

Sea level trends will continue to rise if we continue in our current paradigm, where more people lead to more resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. An increasing population will only reinforce this positive feedback loop underpinning anthropogenic climate change. New York’s population has grown by nearly 375,000 people within the past five years—an increase of 4.5%. As New York continues to grow through natural increase and migration, it is vital that environmental priorities are a forefront consideration if we want to build resilient city.

While future projections leave us feeling hopeless, New York is constantly piloting and inventing new solutions to different problems to save our city.  Bill de Blasio’s One City Built to Last Plan is an aggressive policy approach that implements a spectrum of efficiency initiatives aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from New York City’s over one million buildings. The goal is to reduce city wide emissions by 80% in 2050. Growing a city within sustainable parameters isn’t easy and has proved to be a daunting task for urban architects. According to Robyn Shapiro, director of the Lowline Project, problems of urban growth are not challenging, they invite innovation. Designing cities to respond to future environmental problems is an opportunity for alternative future landscapes, novel possibilities, and innovation through creative design. Urban resilience is the goal, and building a resilient city is the key to building a sustainable city.

lowline-2

 

Aesthetics is Everything – Tesla’s Stunning Solar Roof Tiles

Aesthetics is Everything – Tesla’s Stunning Solar Roof Tiles

How did we not think of this before? Make the tiles in four styles to match the home. Genius. Well done, Elon. Many thanks!

These are Tesla’s stunning new solar roof tiles for homes

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk wasn’t kidding when he said that the new Tesla solar roof product was better looking than an ordinary roof: the roofing replacement with solar energy gathering powers does indeed look great. It’s a far cry from the obvious and somewhat weird aftermarket panels you see applied to roofs after the fact today.

The solar roofing comes in four distinct styles that Tesla presented at the event, including “Textured Glass Tile,” “Slate Glass Tile,” “Tuscan Glass Tile, and “Smooth Glass Tile.” Each of these achieves a different aesthetic look, but all resembled fairly closely a current roofing material style. Each is also transparent to solar, but appears opaque when viewed from an angle.

0cf27641-f7f1-4ead-a8af-030e742088c9The current versions of the tiles actually have a two percent loss on efficiency, so 98 percent of what you’d normally get from a traditional solar panel, according to Elon Musk. But the company is working with 3M on improved coatings that have the potential to possibly go above normal efficiency, since it could trap the light within, leading to it bouncing around and resulting in less energy loss overall before it’s fully diffused.

Of course, there’s the matter of price: Tesla’s roof cost less than the full cost of a roof and electricity will be competitive or better than the cost of a traditional roof combined with the cost of electricity from the grid, Musk said. Tesla declined to provide specific pricing at the moment, since it will depend on a number of factor including installation specifics on a per home basis.

Standard roofing materials do not provide fiscal benefit back to the homeowner post-installation, besides improving the cost of the home. Tesla’s product does that, by generating enough energy to fully power a household, with the power designed to be stored in the new Powerwall 2.0 battery units so that homeowners can keep a reserve in case of excess need.

The solar roof product should start to see installations by summer next year, and Tesla plans to start with one or two of its four tile options, then gradually expand the options over time. As they’re made from quartz glass, they should last way longer than an asphalt tile — at least two or three times the longevity, though Musk later said “they should last longer than the house”.

Watch the video here!

Disposable

Disposable

By Nicole Meyers

99cent-andreas-gursky
Andreas Gursky. 99 Cent, 1999

In 2007, Colin Beavan embarked on a mission to reduce his carbon footprint in New York City. In his book No Impact Man, the Manhattanite documents his year-long crusade to lead an urban lifestyle that has impact on the environment. This means no fossil-fuel emitting transportation, no new purchases, no use of disposable items, and no takeout food or bottled water to avoid containers. Above all, this means NO waste. Beavan produced no trash for twelve months— He didn’t even use toilet paper.

In the beginning of his project, one of Beavan’s initial realizations was the amount of plastic waste his former lifestyle created. Between grocery bags, food containers, coffee cup lids, drink bottles, plastic containers and casing is so ubiquitous in our world that it’s very difficult to buy anything not encased in it, nonetheless made out of it. Beavan wasn’t able to buy cheese until he found a farmer that was able to cut off a slice from the original block and wrap it in paper. Bevan switches from plastic petroleum-derived diapers and opts for cotton tissues and cloths instead. He also starts packing a glass jar with him wherever he goes so he can drink tap water without using plastic cups.

If we want minimize our impact on environment, logical and effective sustainable legislation systems need to consider a full life cycle of plastic, from raw material extraction, production, consumption, and disposal. Plastics are made from oil extracted from the ground, which is then chemically processed to create the molded plastic product. Finished plastics are then sent to stores in an infinite variety of shapes depending on the product requested. Once the the product is discarded, then what happens? Oil-based plastics don’t degrade, but many types CAN be recycled. However, whether or not proper recycling occurs is a whole other problem. Single-use plastic products and throwaway food containers is the fastest growing form of packaging and the main source of oceanic pollution. Every year in the U.S., less than 14 percent of plastic packaging gets properly recycled, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The rest ends up in our oceans, where plastic pollution has become one of the largest threats to our marine ecosystems. Published in the journal Science in February 2015, a study conducted by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) quantified the input of plastic waste from land into the ocean. The report concluded that every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans— and the rate is growing exponentially. In 2025, the annual input is estimated to be about twice greater.

mixed-recycling-40x51
Chris Jordan. Mixed Recycling Seattle, 2004

The United States has one of the lowest overall recycling rates of any developed nation. Our contaminated coastal lines are a testament to our inadequate recycling infrastructure. Several communities don’t have curbside recycling programs, and our fast food industries aren’t held responsible for providing recycling and composting bins for their customers. In contrast, European countries are held accountable for their packaging.

Recycling is required in all NYC apartment buildings, but not all are compliant with meeting recycling requirements. When buildings do abide by regulation, there still needs to be individual participation for recycling to work. Aside from making sure the proper infrastructure is offered, another huge problem is the discrepancies surrounding how to recycle and what needs to be recycled. We need to receive recycling education—a fundamental knowledge that is critical if we want to live in a sustainable society. Sorting plastic from paper recyclables leads to cross contamination between plants. Thus, people opt for “single stream” recycling, which ends up doubling contamination rates. Learning about what is and what isn’t recyclable is geographic, as communities have different rules and standards.

If you aren’t sure about your neighborhood’s protocol, visit www.iwanttoberecycled.org to find your local recycling information and the nearest recycling centers.

The Future of Food – An Actionable Evening with EWG’s Ken Cook and Dr. Frank Lipman

The Future of Food- An Actionable Evening with EWG’s Ken Cook & Dr. Frank Lipman

By Nicole Meyers

food safety

Why, all of a sudden, is everyone is gluten intolerant? On September 13th, Environmental Working Group’s co-founder Ken Cook sat down with functional medicine leader Dr. Frank Lipman, MD to discuss how our broken food system has given way to a fleet of chronic illnesses which society has never seen before. Cook and Lipman use gluten to illustrate the impacts of food production at the crossroads of public and environmental health.

The way we grow, cook, and consume food is inherently tied to ecological and social consequences. The rise of celiac disease is no coincidence, as Cook points out, but rather a product of America’s complex food system, where corporate interests are given precedence over the health and stability of society. Farmers are forced to adapt industrialized growing techniques to meet rising demands and compete with economies of scale. Their answer came in the form of a cheap agricultural input called Roundup, Monsanto’s brand of weed killer that contains glyphosate as the primary ingredient.

Monsanto’s popular herbicide was never reviewed to evaluate the full range of long-term effects on public health or the environment. Our regulation protocol is systematically flawed to benefit corporations, where chemicals of concern are proven safe by a panel of scientists who manufactured them. Meanwhile, a number of former Monsanto employees are now employed by the FDA and other agencies to monitor Monsanto products. This included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which initially determined that the science “does not provide evidence to show that glyphosate causes cancer.”

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This is where Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes in: to restore consumer sovereignty and “stand up for the health of society when government and industry won’t.” The EWG is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that provides scientific research on environmental issues so that consumers can protect their health.  Cook discussed how EWG’s findings indicated the danger of glyphosate consumption. While toxic farming practices increased, so did the rate of chronic illness and health diseases including obesity, reproductive issues and cancer.

Frank Lipman, a leading expert in Integrative and functional medicine, outlines the ways in which consuming the potent toxin is damaging your health, including reproductive problems, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease and Attention-Deficit-Hyperactive Disorder. However, the big, unanswered question resides in the potential health effect of glyphosate levels over extended periods of time. Studies have found traces of the toxin in umbilical cords of unborn children and even breast milk. While it may be impossible to avoid glyphosate entirely, Lipman challenges you to use EWG’s resources to empower yourself to take control of your health; and while it seems unrealistic to eliminate glyphosate entirely, the bottom line is to do whatever you can to limit the events of exposure.

What can you do? Educate yourself and choose wisely when shopping for food or medications. Environmental Working Group has done extensive research on everything from sunscreen to food additives. Look at their lists here.

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