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Photos: Hive Earth
Joelle Eyeson is a co-founder of Hive Earth, which is working to address the housing challenges in Ghana. The company supports using the traditional ‘rammed earth’ technique as much more eco-friendly than cement.

Lately, I’ve seen a number of articles about how cement is bad for the planet. (For example, this story on the mining of sand used in cement.) But what else can we use? We can’t cut down all our remaining trees.

In Ghana, a company interested in sustainable home-building practices is experimenting with modernizing some traditional materials. DW interviewed Joelle Eyeson, co-founder of Hive Earth. Here is the DW interview.

“What are the housing challenges in Ghana right now?
“Joelle Eyeson: There is need for around 2 million new houses in Ghana per year, but most of the building is concentrated in the capital Accra, where land is very expensive. The other issue is that when you build in more rural areas it then becomes expensive to travel to the cities for work. We knew that the majority of people in Ghana have a relatively low wage. We thought it is strange you have workers building these big houses that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and they could never afford them.

“So our aim is to build houses that our workers and the majority of Ghanaians and West Africans can afford. The prototype that should be ready by the end of the year will cost roughly $5,000 for a one-room house.

“What exactly is the ‘rammed earth’ technique that you use?
The rammed earth technique is just a mixture of laterite, clay and then granite chippings. We use 5 percent cement to bind it but also do it using lime.

We wanted a way of building without using cement, because it is very toxic; especially in our climate it combines with the heat and humidity and creates a really bad indoor air quality.

“When we discovered the rammed earth technique, we thought it was great because it is basically like the traditional mud house, but updated. It’s a tried and tested technique that’s been around for centuries. Parts of the Great Wall of China were even built with rammed earth.

“In what other ways are the buildings eco-friendly?
“In Ghana it is so hot you usually need air conditioning systems in your home, but these are not always affordable, eco-friendly, or good for your health. We teamed up with some German engineers who gave us the idea of underground cooling systems. We dig around 8 feet or more until we get to the cool air underground. Then we use a solar pump which is constantly bringing the cool air into the home. Then it is only the cost of the solar pump (around $300) which people need to pay and there are no bills. …

“With our foundation we are also planning on doing more workshops with local communities, helping to teach them the skills of building with rammed earth. We are also planning on building eco toilets. … We want to enable people to come and learn about rammed earth, build something that is beautiful, eco-friendly and useful for their own communities.”

More at DW, here.

The rammed-earth building technique uses local materials in Ghana and almost no cement.

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Photo: Omari Daniel
Bees at the Lyric Hammersmith Theater in West London.

The arts are always struggling for funds, so it’s lucky that artistic people are by definition creative. In this story, some creative theater people thought up a way to help the environment while simultaneously raising a little cash for their work. It’s all part of a theater’s broad sustainability plan.

Sian Alexander writes, “As a leading producing theatre and the largest creative hub in west London, the Lyric Hammersmith welcomes around 200,000 people a year to its building, including 30,000 young people at classes and activities. We have nine Young Lyric partners based here, three resident companies, 50 permanent staff and over 500 freelancers each year – all under one roof.

“Our roof is also now a symbol of our long-standing commitment to environmental sustainability. As well as our public roof terrace, a green oasis in the heart of an urban environment, we have a green sedum roof — covered in plants — installed in 2015 during our last major capital redevelopment.

“Last year we teamed up with the local business improvement district, HammersmithLondon, to install three beehives on the roof, now home to 180,000 Buckfast honey bees. They seem to be happy here, and this summer we enjoyed a substantial honey harvest. We sell the honey in our café and at local markets, where it is a great conversation starter about our efforts to go green. …

“Bees have a critical role in food production, as around a third of the food we consume relies on pollination. The bees also help our green roof mature through pollination, and help improve air quality and biodiversity in the local area. …

“We strive to ensure our green values run through all elements of our business. For example, our building has air-source heat pumps and predominantly LED lighting; we send zero waste to landfill, working with First Mile and Scenery Salvage; our energy supply is 100% renewable electricity and green, frack-free gas; our finance and administration teams run on a paperless system; and all new staff and creative teams are given a reusable water bottle on their first day. …

“We are introducing a vegetarian and vegan specials menu in our bar and grill, visiting allotments and trying alternative foods. We are also running a stall at the local food market to engage the public on food packaging, as well as addressing food waste.”

More at Arts Professional, here.

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Photos: Sai Sanctuary
In part to preserve the planet’s source of rainwater, this couple bought a sanctuary in India. As it expands, it protects more and more species.

A childhood friend on Facebook often posts interesting links. Her presence on that platform is a major reason I can’t bring myself to get off Facebook even though I feel extremely wary of what the company is doing with my data. But how many people from your nursery school do you connect with on a regular basis?

My friend recently alerted her followers to an animal sanctuary in India that sounded cool, and after a look at the website, I checked around for more information on the two wealthy nature lovers who saved the preserve from neglect.

Panna Munyal wrote this 2016 report at an Abu Dhabi publication called The National, “On most days, Pamela Gale ­Malhotra, co-owner of the Sai Sanctuary private forest in ­India, is fast asleep at 1.30am, after her typically full programme of organising walking safaris and animal feeds, and checking camera traps for signs of poaching.

“But a few years ago, Pamela and her husband, Anil Malhotra, woke up to the sound of trumpeting ­elephants. They assumed – rightly – that a baby elephant must have strayed too close to a partially covered pit and fallen in. As her husband switched on the rarely used floodlights and prepared to call on their neighbours for aid, Pamela stepped out to a magnificent sight.

Dozens of elephants from the Sai ­Sanctuary’s herds, as well as the neighbouring Bandipur, ­Brahmagiri and Nagarhole national parks, had gathered around the pit and were bellowing their assurances to the calf. Pamela describes the next hour as magical, as the enormously graceful creatures banded as one to lift the half-broken lid of the pit with their trunks, enabling the little one to clamber out.

“This show of concerned unity is typical of the environment the Malhotras have cultivated in Sai Sanctuary, which is nestled within southern India’s ­Western Ghats in the Coorg district. ‘Protecting what is left of the world’s forests is the only thing that will ensure our own survival,’ Pamela says. ‘Forests are directly responsible for rainfall, our primary source of water. Water, in turn, is the lifeline for plants, flowers, animals, birds and humans. We have nothing if not for our forests.’ …

” ‘When we bought our first parcel of land in India, it was just the two of us and 55 acres [22 hectares] of forest beside the Poddani River. We learnt from experience that if you want to protect a piece of land, you need to secure both sides of its water source. And here we both are 25 years later, managing 300 acres [121 hectares] on both sides of the river.’

“Pamela, who is part Native American, and her husband, a former banker, … follow a two-pronged approach to safeguard the forest, river and wildlife: purchase-to-protect and payment for environmental services. The first step is to buy private forested lands that border national parks or other reserve forests, and preserve them in their natural state. Next, the Malhotras offer compensation to members of the surrounding communities to, in turn, not harm the trees and animals around them. Compensation may be in the form of money, but it can also be a solution that works for both parties.

“ ‘We gifted all our cattle to some of our neighbours. The milk and dung give them an extra source of income, while for us it means less staff and more food for other grass-eaters,’ says Pamela. ‘Another time, some villagers approached my husband to help relocate a temple from the top of the mountain to the edge of the sanctuary. He agreed, on the condition that they would stop hunting.’ …

“Ingenious solutions and noble intentions aside, it’s undeniable that money – and large sums at that – is needed for a project of this magnitude. … ‘We now have four rooms in two eco-tourism cottages on the property alongside the main house in which we live.’ These cottages are open to visitors, and cost from [$42] per person, per night, which includes the stay, three nutritious vegetarian meals and daily treks. …

” ‘We outsource not only our housekeeping and laundry facilities, but also hire willing neighbours to cook the meals, some of which can be eaten in a local house or with the village priest. This ensures the money spreads through the community, and even our guests can get a feel for the culture,’ Pamela says. …

“Despite its size, Sai Sanctuary doesn’t have any safari vehicles. ‘You are always on foot here. It helps people to slow down and observe the flowers, birds and trees around them. … Guests are never taken to the same area twice during the course of their stay because ‘we want the wildlife to move freely even in the day. This is the purpose of a sanctuary.’

The National article is here. And if you explore the Sai website, here, you will find some beautiful pictures of the species that the sanctuary protects.

Thanks, Carole, for putting this on FB.

Photo: Sai Sanctuary
Anil Malhotra and Pamela Gale Malhotra put their money behind saving an animal sanctuary in India.

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Photo: Philadelphia Water Department
A rain garden manages stormwater runoff in Philadelphia’s Germantown section. 

When I was at the magazine, I solicited several articles about Philadelphia and what people there were doing to bring more of the natural environment into urban living. It’s not easy for any city as budgets are often strained. But when you can make the case that environmental improvements ultimately save costs (or when an EPA is serious about quality of life), you have a better chance of getting things done.

Bruce Stutz at Yale Environment 360 (a great publication I recommend following on twitter @yaleE360) has the story.

“Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia’s favorite son, described his city’s stormwater problem well: By ‘covering a ground plot with buildings and pavements, which carry off most of the rain and prevent its soaking into the Earth and renewing and purifying the Springs … the water of wells must gradually grow worse, and in time be unfit for use.’

“When he wrote this in 1789, many of Philadelphia’s water sources, the scores of streams that ran into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, were already cesspools of household and industrial waste. As they became intolerable eyesores and miasmic health hazards, the city simply covered them with brick arches, turned the streams into sewers, and on top constructed new streets, an expanding impervious landscape that left the rains with even fewer places for ‘soaking into the Earth.’

“Crude as it was, this network of underground-to-riverfront outfalls through ever-larger pipes was pretty much the way Philadelphia and other U.S. cities coped with their stormwater for the next 200 years.

“But Ben Franklin’s town has decided to take the lead in undoing this ever-more costly and outdated system that annually pours huge volumes of polluted stormwater runoff and untreated sewage into the Delaware and the Schuylkill. Instead of building more and bigger sewers and related infrastructure, Philadelphia has adopted a relatively new paradigm for urban stormwater: Rather than convey it, detain it — recreate in the urban streetscape the kinds of pervious places where, instead of running into surrounding waterways, rainfall and the contaminants it carries can once again soak into the earth.

“The city is now in the seventh year of a 25-year project designed to fulfill an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce by 85 percent Philadelphia’s combined sewer overflows. … Rather than spending an estimated $9.6 billion on a ‘gray’ infrastructure program of ever-larger tunnels, the city is investing an estimated $2.4 billion in public funds — to be augmented by large expenditures from the private sector — to create a citywide mosaic of green stormwater infrastructure. …

“At nearby Villanova University, the Urban Stormwater Partnership, founded in 2002 under environmental engineering professor Robert Traver, had begun experimenting with green stormwater infrastructure. [Howard Neukrug who served as the city’s water department commissioner from 2011 to 2015] developed a couple of low-impact pilot design projects, and in 2009, the Philadelphia Water Department released a revision — 12 years in the making — to its stormwater and sewage management plan….

The city is working now to standardize the construction of green infrastructure and monitor its effectiveness. Costs are coming down as green infrastructure becomes more widely adopted. …

“As the Water Department’s planners expand the network of greened acres, they are bringing social, economic, and environmental investment to often marginalized neighborhoods. [Marc Cammarata, the Water Department’s deputy commissioner of planning and environmental services] says that green stormwater infrastructure projects now support 430 jobs. … Residents already report that green infrastructure projects have reduced crime as green spaces proliferate, says Cammarata.

The Water Department’s website map is crowded with green infrastructure sites across the city. Visitors can zoom in on their neighborhood and see what’s there.”

More here.

 

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This is Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. She started the Friday school strikes that are spreading around the world and made a splash scolding power brokers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

You have probably heard of the ubiquitous Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who is leading a youth movement to address global warming. But there are many other climate movements right now, as I learned when I read Mary Robinson’s inspiring book Climate Justice. One example she cites is an Australia-based organization called 1 Million Women, which was started by a woman who was able to cut way, way back on her family’s carbon footprint and wanted to share what she learned.

One Million Women’s website includes a pollution-cutting activity center that “has 50+ ways to cut pollution, covering energy, money, household, food, travel, shopping, sharing and a special girls section. Each activity has a pollution value attached. Choose the activities that work for you,” it suggests.

For those of you who really want to roll up your sleeves and tackle daily activities, 1 Million Women also has a handy feature called the Carbon Challenge, which provides sustainability tips and helps you track your progress in reducing pollution. See that here. I confess that I haven’t taken the challenge yet, but I’d love to hear from anyone who gives it a shot.

The blog for 1 Million Women features entries from many activists, each focusing on a different aspect of climate change activism. The toilet paper post was funny. In another post, Eve White, “mum of two and a freelance editor with a PhD in Ecology, … founding member of Australian Mums for a Safe Climate and Australian Parents for Climate Action,” asks, “Why are we leaving it up to our kids?”

She writes, “In November, 2018, 15,000 Australian kids went on strike from school to demand stronger action on climate change. Other actions will follow, with the next climate strike planned for March, 2019. Listening to these kids speak, it is clear that they are articulate and informed. They include school captains and future doctors, leaders and business people; not the kind of kids who’d routinely skip school. But without the power to vote they are worried about their future, frustrated with inaction on climate change and desperate to be heard.

“It is wrong that it has fallen on the kids to do this. As one young speaker said, ‘We are expected to tidy up after ourselves. Adults should tidy up their own mess, not leave it for us. This is not fair.’ ”

White goes on to list “ways that parents can support their kids in the fight for the future, and not all of them require a lot of effort,” like talking to more people about the issue, supporting the kids’ movement logistically and financially, writing to the local paper, and getting active in national environmental groups. Another “not a lot of effort” thing to do if you are on social media might be to follow people who are working on this issue and share information with your followers.

More.

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Photo: South West News Service
Pat Smith, married mother of two, grandmother, and owner of a B&B in Cornwall, cleaned plastic from 52 English beaches in 2018 and is still going strong.

Doesn’t 2019 feel like the year that environmentalism will pick up more proponents than ever? Thanks to activists and journalists, people are really up in arms about the plastic that’s defacing our beautiful beaches and about what fossil fuels and giant agribusinesses are doing to the climate. Humanity seems to take steps forward and then take steps back, but I feel like this is a forward year.

Consider these three anti-plastic, anti-litter stories.

Maddy Foley writes at Inverse about the origins of plogging, which is a “mash-up of ‘jogging’ and plocka uppa, the Swedish word for ‘picking up.’ …

“Plogging first emerged in 2016,” she says, “started — or at least branded — by Erik Ahlström, following his move from a resort town to Stockholm. Ahlström was reportedly struck by the amount of trash he passed by during regular runs — so he began picking it up along the way, often sporting medical gloves. Soon Ahlström was organizing community runs throughout the city, marrying environmental advocacy with sensible amounts of exercise.

“The practice supposedly grew from the long-standing Swedish philosophy of lagom, the Goldielocks of lifestyle tenets. Meaning ‘not too much, not too little.’ Lagom values moderation; it heralds the pleasure of existence, without being seduced by the lure of consumption.

“In plogging, those tenets translate to picking up some trash (not every single piece), while jogging (not sprinting). It’s about being out in the world, while accepting that it’s become a world beset by trash.” More at Inverse.

There’s also a nice story at Public Radio International’s The World about Ripu Dama, a long-distance runner in India who caught the plogging bug and who recently spread the word on a run through Europe.

Marco Werman reports on Dama’s efforts in India, “Dama, who is being called ‘India’s first plogger,’ is spreading a message of physical activity and environmental protection in Mumbai while participating and organizing clean ups — documenting everything on social media @ploggersofindia.

“ ‘I’m a runner. I run marathons and ultras. When you’re a runner and you run in the mornings, the thing that you observe most is trash and plastic. So [members of my running group and I] were already cleaning up individually. In 2017, we came across the term “plogging” and we thought “this is exactly what we do.” It was kind of becoming a global trend.’ …

“Dama hopes to make an impact on the younger generations. … ‘Schoolchildren take it up like fish to water. And that’s been the biggest high out of all of this. When we are doing this activity in our local parks or somewhere and kids see us doing it … they just come and join us and the habits that get inculcated at this young age will last a lifetime.’ ” Listen to the PRI interview here.

But wait! You don’t need to be a runner or a kid.

As Ed Riley writes at the Daily Mail, an English grandmother walked 52 beaches in 2018 cleaning up plastic, and she has no intention of slowing down.

Pat Smith, “founder of the environmental campaign group Final Straw Cornwall, said: ‘Doing 52 beach cleans in 2018 was my New Year’s Resolution and it’s finally done. I won’t stop as our beaches need me.

” ‘A lot of the rubbish I have picked up consists of everyday items. These things are used by all of us and it is shocking to find them polluting our beautiful beaches. …

” ‘I’m driven to try and protect our living planet for my children and grandchildren, and I will continue to do everything in my power to achieve that. …

” ‘I grew up in the generation where plastic use was at its worse. … [But] even though it was everywhere, we had no plastic at home — we would walk to the shops or get the bus to get groceries.’

“Mrs Smith said that she was often joined by other volunteers who were determined to keep our beaches clean. But she said not everyone understood, and on some occasions, she would be mistaken for doing community service.

“She said: ‘People don’t understand I’ve been doing this voluntarily. We should all take responsibility for picking up the litter, as well as ensuring we don’t drop litter in the first place.’ ” More at the Daily Mail, here.

If you are ever in Cornwall, you might consider staying at Mrs. Smith’s B&B. She sounds like a good person to know.

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Photos: Recycled Island Foundation
This prototype for a floating park in Rotterdam is open to the public. It’s made of recycled plastic and is welcoming to many species, including homo sapiens (who is less than sapiens, it would seem, considering ongoing planet damage).

With the activities of humankind causing animal populations to decline 60 percent since 1970 and massive loss of essential insect species, I’m looking everywhere for more leadership in the environmental arena. So far, what I find are relatively small activities of isolated groups. But thank goodness for that! Small activities add up.

Jeremy Berke writes at Business Insider, “Rotterdam’s Floating Park — which is now open to visitors, though the park is just a prototype of what may become a much larger installation — is made out of plastic recycled from Rotterdam’s waterways.

“The recycled plastic is constructed into hexagonal pods, which mimic the landscape of Rotterdam’s Maas River before humans altered the landscape, according to the Recycled Island Foundation, the group behind the park.

“The pods can be used to create gardens, as habitat for wildlife, or for chilling out, and they can be molded into different seating arrangements.

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The Recycled Island Foundation says the park’s plastic hexagons were designed to provide habitat for native waterbirds, plants, fish, and even algae.

“On top of that, plastic dumped into the city’s canals is collected by ‘litter traps,’ which prevent plastic from flowing into the ocean.”

Pretty sure that dynamic and broadly effective leadership in the global-warming arena is going to come from people who are now only teenagers or even in middle school. Kids know what’s what.

More at Business Insider, here.

A litter trap in Rotterdam collects plastic waste, which can be recycled to make a floating park.

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