Tag Archives: Global

20mph speed limits, a levy on plastic bags and reducing night lighting would cost little but deliver significant benefits

Plastic bags: ‘as a small step towards cutting pointless resource use, and cleaning up our towns, cities, countryside rivers and seas, this truly is an easy win’. Photo: Andy Rain/EPA

It’s new year’s resolution time – the mince pies are sitting heavy on the stomach, the Christmas tat is spewing from every bin and it’s time for a fresh start.

For Britain’s environment, clearly the most important resolution is to restructure the government’s energy bill to put energy conservation at its heart, to restore the target of decarbonising electricity by 2030 and to follow most of the developed world in drawing a final line underneath the failed decades of expensive nuclear power.

But that’s a tough one to face this early in the year. So for now, let’s start with the small, the easily delivered, the no-brainers, the cheap and the free.

First, the simplest. Ireland did it yonks ago, Wales has done it, and Scotland is doing it: let’s put a levy on single-use plastic bags in English shops. (It’s even party policy for one party in the coalition government.) It’s surprising it’s not Conservative policy really, given the Daily Mail has made it a flagship campaign.

Bag use rose by around 5% to 6.75bn in the past year, despite claimed voluntary efforts by stores to cut back. How many times do you have to say “no bag please” in your local chain stores? The London assembly has backed action, there’s lots of excellent local campaigns. So now is the time for England to catch up with the rest of the UK.

No, it’s not going to save the planet, but as a small step towards cutting pointless resource use, and cleaning up our towns, cities, countryside rivers and seas, this truly is an easy win. Let’s get back to parity with China on this one please.

Next, let’s cut down on unnecessary night time lighting of shops in cities and towns. The French are leading the way, having banned neon shop lighting in the early hours last year, and they’re now looking at insisting the lights inside shops go off for similar hours.

Yes, I admit that those people who love to window shop between 1am and 6am might be slightly discommoded – not that I know anyone who does that. But I know that a lot of people would enjoy a reduction in light pollution – both those who like to gaze up at the stars and those trying to sleep in glare-ridden bedrooms around the shops. And even the Daily Mail might like the fact that we could build a few less wind turbines if we cut demand for electricity instead. There would be a saving on shop electricity bills and so perhaps even a saving on our shopping bills.

And this would be a small step towards the bigger range of energy reduction measures that we need, as with insulating and draft-proofing our dreadful quality housing stock and making sure that all new build homes meet the highest energy standards. It costs us all to provide extra energy capacity – we can all save cash, and improve our lives.

Finally, an environmental measure that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and make our towns and cities far more pleasing places – let’s introduce 20mph speed limits everywhere people live, work and shop: make it the default urban limit. No need for lots of expensive signage – in fact you could probably clear a lot of street clutter. And motorists would see a saving in fuel costs and wear and tear, at the “cost” of an average of 90 seconds being added to their journeys.

We’re seeing big progress around the country on 20mph limits – the London borough of Islington is likely to soon be followed by others – but we could make a big national leap and save a lot of campaigners’ time and energy, and a significant number of lives, if we took an immediate step across England and Wales.

The cost of all of these three measures would be tiny, and the benefits – to our finances and quality of life – significant. They’re perfect easy resolutions to start with – then we can get more ambitious.

Author: Natalie Bennett
Source: The Guardian



Planned eco-city for 3m people matches Luxembourg in size and showcases urban 21st-century smart living, say developers

Proposed map of the new eco-city Iskandar Malaysia.

Standing opposite Singapore, across the strait of Johor, is the site of a new project that its architects and developers hope will be the future of urban life in south-east Asia – a mega-city built along eco-friendly lines, with green energy and an end to the pollution that afflicts so many of Asia’s cities.

Occupying an area the size of Luxembourg, the site is expected to have a population of 3 million by 2025, living as an ultra-modern “smart metropolis”. Energy will be provided from renewable sources, transport will be publicly provided, waste will be diverted to other uses, and the city is planned by the Malaysian government as a showcase to be copied on a bigger scale across the region.

The world’s urban population overtook the number of rural-dwellers for the first time in 2007, and future population growth in south-east Asia – at least 9bn people are expected to inhabit this planet by 2050, up from 7bn at present – is expected to be mainly in cities in the developing world. By far the greatest growth will be in slums, by current estimates.

Iskandar Malaysia offers an alternative. The plans are for a city that not only incorporates the latest in environmentally friendly technology, but that is designed for social integration. Green spaces and areas where people can mingle and relax will improve people’s mental wellbeing and encourage social cohesion, it is hoped. Skyscrapers will be mixed with low-rise buildings and small self-contained “neighbourhoods”.

Najib Razak, prime minister of Malaysia, said in a speech: “Iskandar Malaysia [is] a smart city template – protecting the environment, promoting equitable development and addressing urban development challenges [through] the creation of smart, liveable urban communities that will yield an improved quality of life for thousands of citizens, with safer, cleaner, healthier, more affordable and more vibrant neighbourhoods, serviced by more efficient and accessible transportation systems – great destinations for businesses.”

Ellis Rubinstein, president of the New York Academy of Sciences, which is working on the “edu-city” university campus area, said it could be “a model to countries needing to accommodate the social and economic needs of fast-rising populations and environmental challenges”.

However, the project’s developers will have to overcome significant obstacles. New eco-cities have been planned in the past, from China to the US, but most have floundered. China’s Dongtan was heralded as the world’s first planned eco-city, but plans have been mired in difficulty for years. A UK project for “eco-towns” was widely ridiculed and has been all but abandoned.

So far, the Malaysian government has managed to attract support from Pinewood Studios, which will build new facilities in Iskandar, and Legoland which will build its first Asian theme park in the city. Several UK universities – including Newcastle and Southampton – are also planning to open up remote campuses.

More than $30bn has been promised for the city, of which more than a third will come from outside Malaysia.

Author: Fiona Harvey
Source: The Guardian


The Antarctic ozone hole reached its largest size for the season on 22 September (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

The seasonal hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic this year was the second smallest in two decades, but still covered an area three times the size of Australia, say US experts.

The average size of the Earth’s protective shield was 17.9 million square kilometres, according to satellite measurements by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

“It happened to be a bit warmer this year high in the atmosphere above Antarctica, and that meant we didn’t see quite as much ozone depletion as we saw last year, when it was colder,” says Jim Butler of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory.

The Antarctic ozone hole, which forms in September and October, reached its largest size for the season – 21 million square kilometres – on 22 September.

In comparison, the largest ozone hole recorded to date was one of 29.8 million square kilometres in the year 2000.

The ozone layer – which helps protect the Earth from potentially dangerous ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer and cataracts – began developing holes on an annual basis starting in the 1980s due to chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs.

CFCs, once commonly used in refrigerators and aerosol cans, now are almost non-existent thanks to an international treaty signed on 16 September 1987, amid global concern over widening holes in the ozone layer.

Still, it could take another decade before scientists detect early signs that the ozone over the Antarctic is returning, says NOAA.

The ozone layer above Antarctica likely will not return to its early 1980s state until about 2060, according to NASA scientist Paul Newman.

Author: Reuters
Source: ABC Science


OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The state Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that the state’s hazardous substances tax is constitutional.

The high court upheld a King County Superior Court ruling that found the state is not precluded from using the current tax of 0.7 percent imposed on oil products, pesticides and other chemicals for environmental cleanup projects.

The state has said the tax, approved by voters in 1988, brings in about $125 million a year for those projects.

The Automotive United Trades Organization and California-based Tower Energy Group had argued that that the levy is a gas tax that should be used only for highways and roads under the state Constitution’s 18th amendment, which dedicates motor fuel tax collections to highway purposes.

The high court ruling, written by Justice Jim Johnson, said “nothing in that constitutional provision indicates that any new tax similar to a gas tax would require the Legislature to use the funds for highway purposes.”

The hazardous substances tax “statute was enacted to tax toxic substances, including motor vehicle fuel, for the purpose of cleaning up spills of hazardous substances,” the court wrote. “As a result, funds from the HST levied against motor vehicle fuel do not have to be used for highway purposes because they were never restricted to be used only for highway purposes.”

State Department of Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant was happy with the ruling.

“For more than 20 years, this tax has been doing exactly what the voters of our state intended,” he said in a written statement, noting it has led to the cleanup of old toxic messes and “prevented many new ones in our air and water and land.”

Phil Talmadge, the attorney for Automotive United Trades Organization, said the ruling created a huge loophole in terms of the motor vehicle fund.

“What this decision means is that the Legislature can get there in January and say ‘we have a big budget hole,’ and they can increase the gas tax and take those revenues and use them for education or to support social services,” he said. “It’s open season on the tax on gasoline.”

Laura Watson, an assistant attorney general who argued the case, said the decision does not open the door for using the gas tax for other purposes.

“What it says is that the hazardous substance tax isn’t limited to highway purposes, which is how we’ve been interpreting the tax for over 20 years now,” she said.

Watson said that while it’s true that the official state gas tax — which was established in the 1920s — can’t be used for anything other than road projects, the Legislature has always been able to use to pass statutes that could add a separate tax on motor fuel that could be directed to other projects, and that nothing under this ruling changes that.

“The Legislature has very broad taxing authority,” she said.

Author: Rachel La Corte
Source: Huff Post Green


Os Açores podem vir a ser o primeiro geoparque do mundo na condição de arquipélago. (Foto: Daniel Rocha)

O Comité Coordenador da Rede Europeia de Geoparques adiou para Março a decisão quanto ao reconhecimento dos Açores como património geológico da Humanidade, foi revelado nesta quinta-feira.

“A candidatura não foi rejeitada. Mas é a primeira vez que a Rede de Geoparques tem um arquipélago a querer associa-se-lhe e isso tornou-se um problema para a própria estrutura”, disse José Leonardo Silva, coordenador da candidatura dos Açores.

A informação foi divulgada no encerramento da 11.ª Conferência Europeia de Geoparques, que, reunindo cerca de 300 responsáveis de 42 países, foi este ano organizada pelo Geoparque de Arouca, em parceria com a UNESCO – Organização das Nações Unidas para a Educação, Ciência e Cultura.

Para José Leonardo Silva, o adiamento “não foi uma desilusão”, porque em causa está apenas “um pedido de informação adicional” sobre o território das nove ilhas. “Não podemos pensar que isto foi um problema. Temos que pensar que estamos a colocar-nos do lado da solução”, sublinhou.

Em Portugal há actualmente dois geoparques: o de Arouca, cujos limites coincidem com aquele concelho, e o Naturtejo da Meseta Meridional, que abrange os municípios de Castelo Branco, Idanha-a-Nova, Nisa, Oleiros, Proença-a-Nova e Vila Velha de Ródão.

Segundo José Leonardo Silva, os Açores podem vir a ser o terceiro geoparque português e o primeiro do mundo na condição de arquipélago.

O Comité Coordenador da Rede de Geoparques “disse, e nós também achamos, que o Geoparque dos Açores é uma grande mais-valia para a Rede Europeia. Esperamos satisfazer todos os membros da Rede com as nossas respostas, para que consigamos entrar em Março próximo”, data da próxima reunião da estrutura, em Paris, acrescentou.

Ontem foram reconhecidos sete territórios como Património Geológico da Humanidade: Global Geopark da Catalunha Central (em Espanha), Bakani Baaton (Hungria), Sangingshan (China), Chablais (França), Carnic Alps (Áustria) e Batur (Indónesia), todos em registo de primeira adesão. O Geoparque da Ilha de Lesvos, na Grécia, também viu revalidada a sua classificação pela UNESCO, após um alargamento de território que obrigava a nova avaliação.

Autor: Lusa
Fonte: Ecosfera – Público


Travelling as an amateur scientist on an expedition might help fund science, but it can leave a trail of chemicals behind

On thin ice: some scientic expeditions to Antarctica have done more harm than good. Photograph: Martin Harvey/Getty Images/Gallo Images

Venturing into inhospitable wildernesses to collect data, today’s scientific warriors are between a rock and a hard place. Actually they are usually in Antarctica. There’s a research gold rush to the South Pole as record numbers of scientists (5,000 each year, from 27 different countries) head out to various stations. The prize? Essential research and their own data charting the effects of climate change at the front line. Lest we forget why this is important: if the ice melted in Antarctica, global sea levels would rise by 50m.

As a way of funding their expeditions, many programmes now “carry” a number of amateur scientists. This is not an easy jolly; participants must be fit. They occupy an uneasy space between scientist and tourist. The latter are habitually blamed for putting pressure on ecosystems everywhere. But while there will be those who want to gawp at penguins, most are very well-intentioned. A recent report by Professor Steven Chown on the dangers to Antarctica found that tourists are unfairly taking all the flak for damage. Embarrassingly his research shows that when it comes to the distribution of invasive plant seeds (a serious form of pollution), scientists are more to blame than tourists. Peter Convey, a terrestrial ecologist for the British Antarctic Survey, pulled up his first weed in Antarctica in January this year and was suitably horrified.

There are good scientific expeditions and bad ones. The good ones are meticulously planned from an ecological point of view. Take Professor Martin Siegert of Bristol University. When his team journeys to Lake Ellsworth in the Antarctic in November to continue his vital work into subglacial lakes, the environment will be a priority. So although it might have taken 16 years to plan this work in order to avoid using kerosene or chemical contaminants, his team will be using a “clean” borehole even though that will give them just 24 hours to collect samples.

Leaving a trail of chemicals not only pollutes the ecosystem, it contaminates the area for future scientists so that when the next group arrives in the field to collect data, their probes detect oil and chemicals left by the last lot. Every expedition should be “clean” in this way. It’s a travesty that every expedition is not yet compelled to offer a complete life cycle analysis. Any expeditions ignoring their ecological obligations are on very thin ice.

Autor: Lucy Siegle
Fonte: The Guardian / The Observer


Depois da ameaça das autoridades de São Francisco deixarem de adquirir produtos Apple, aquela empresa californiana decidiu voltar atrás na sua decisão de romper com uma importante certificação ambiental americana.

De acordo com as normas estabelecidas pela Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), gerida pelo Green Electronics Council, os produtos das empresas certificadas deverão ser fáceis de desmontar pelos consumidores, de forma a que possam ser eliminados facilmente os componentes tóxicos, nomeadamente as baterias, com a finalidade de os produtos em questão poderem ser considerados um ‘produto verde’”.

Era precisamente deste vínculo que a Apple se queria afastar, mas o tiro saiu-lhes pela culatra, depois de uma onda de má publicidade após a decisão de abandonar esta certificação “verde”, há uma semana. Agora a empresa voltou atrás e anunciou que esta manobra foi um “erro” e que a norma do Green Electronics Council volta a estar presente nos aparelhos da empresa.

De acordo com um comunicado do vice-presidente sénior do departamento de engenharia de hardware, Bob Mansfield, a Apple ficou muito preocupada pela “decepção” manifestada pelos utilizadores, pelo que decidiu reverter a sua decisão.

Entretanto, o director executivo da EPEAT, Robert Frisbee, já veio saudar esta “inversão de marcha” empresarial, afirmando que ela deverá, no futuro, recompensar aqueles que apostam no design sem esquecer a sustentabilidade.

Fonte: Ecosfera


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