Public Art or Renewable Energy?
New Designs Aim to Produce Both
When the topic of energy infrastructure comes up, works of art don’t usually come to mind. But hundreds of such hybrid creations — part renewable power generators,
A vegetable farm off the Santa Monica Pier.
part large-scale art installations — now exist, at least on paper, as the result of a sustainable design competition known as the Land Art Generator Initiative
. Multi-disciplinary teams across the world have taken up the challenge to come up with buildable designs that produce renewable energy and “add value to public space, inspire, and educate.” In a photo essay, Yale Environment 360
highlights eight submissions to this year’s biennial competition, including the three winners announced this week. All designed for the waters off the Santa Monica Pier in Southern California, the systems range from a ring-shaped farm floating offshore to sail-like structures that harvest drinking water from fog.
08 Jul 2016:
Hundreds of Deaths in 2003
Heat Wave Linked to Climate Change
A new study suggests that human-caused climate change could be responsible for a significant portion of the 70,000 deaths that occurred during the record-breaking 2003 European heat wave. The research, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters
, combined climate modeling with health data for hundreds of fatalities that summer. Climate change, the study found, increased the likelihood of heat-related losses by nearly 70 percent in Paris and 20 percent in London. Out of 735 heat-related deaths in Paris, 506 were attributable to global warming, as were 64 out of 315 deaths in London. "Until recently, whenever we talked about climate change we talked about the globally averaged increase in temperature of 1 degree and people just don't really know or frankly care about that," lead study author and Oxford University scientist Daniel Mitchell told InsideClimate News
. "But now… people can really start to understand that these are impacts we're seeing now, not in the future."
05 Jul 2016:
Paris Bans All Pre-1997
Cars During Weekdays to Fight Pollution
Starting this month, Paris is banning all cars built before 1997 from driving within city limits Monday through Friday in an effort to lower air pollution levels.
Commuter traffic in Paris.
Paris has been struggling with smog for years and its pollution levels have briefly topped those in Beijing. Similar to Mexico City and New Delhi
, Paris banned even- and odd-numbered license plates on alternating days to fight smog earlier this year. It has also championed cleaner transit options, such as bike- and electric car-sharing programs. Not everyone is enthused, however: The French consumer group 40 Million Drivers said the ban could impact up to 500,000 vehicle owners in and around Paris, particularly low-income families. "When you have an old car in France, it's because you don't have the money to buy a new one," Pierre Chasseray, the executive director of 40 Million Drivers, told NPR
. "Public transport is a solution, but it's not the solution for everybody."
24 Jun 2016:
Cities on Six Continents
Join Forces to Combat Climate Change
Mayors from more than 7,100 cities on six continents announced this week
that they are creating a new alliance to fight climate change at the local level.
New York City
The new group — a merger of the European Union-based Covenant of Mayors and the United Nations-backed Compact of Mayors — represents a combined 600 million people in 119 countries. The initiative aims to set city-based CO2 emissions cuts, build sustainable communities, and foster the sharing of resiliency policies and technologies. “Cities are key to solving the climate change challenge,” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission, wrote in The Guardian
. “They account for most of the world’s carbon emissions, and mayors often have control over the largest sources. Cities can also act quickly to confront climate change, without the political and bureaucratic hurdles that often hold back national governments.”
17 Jun 2016:
California’s Roadside Trees
Provide $1 Billion in Municipal Services
The trees that line California’s streets and boulevards are worth an estimated $1 billion a year for the work they do in removing air pollution, storing CO2, cooling homes, and reducing rain runoff, among other municipal services,
Palm trees in Los Angeles, California.
according to a new analysis
by the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California, Davis. The state’s 9.1 million street trees pull nearly 568,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually, equal to taking 120,000 cars off the road, the study, published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening
, found. The scientists say California has room to put another 16 million trees along its roads if it wants. "We've calculated for every $1 spent on planting or maintaining a street tree, that tree returns, on average, $5.82 in benefits," forester and lead author Greg McPherson said in a statement
. "These trees are benefiting their communities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."
25 May 2016:
Could This Straddling Bus Help
Solve China’s Air Pollution Problem?
With an estimated 20 million new drivers on the road each year, China has long struggled to control its CO2 emissions, air pollution, and traffic problems.
But a Beijing-based transit company is planning to test a new straddling bus this summer
that could provide some relief, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua. The bus, which can carry up to 1,400 passengers, hovers above the road, letting smaller vehicles pass underneath. Because it operates on existing roadways, the system is much cheaper to build than underground subways, while carrying the same number of people. The idea of a straddling bus has been around since 1969
, but has remained a far-fetched concept until recent years. A model of the system, designed by Transit Explore Bus, was unveiled at the International High-Tech Expo in Beijing this month. The company plans to build and test an actual straddling bus in Changzhou this summer.
Bringing Energy Upgrades
To the Nation’s Inner Cities
America’s low-income urban areas are filled with aging buildings that are notoriously energy-inefficient. It’s a problem that Donnel Baird sees as an opportunity. Baird is CEO and cofounder of BlocPower,
a startup that markets and finances energy-upgrade projects in financially underserved areas. Founded in 2013 with venture capital seed money, BlocPower bundles small energy-improvement projects together — from barber shops to churches —and sells them to potential investors. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Baird describes how BlocPower’s projects not only create jobs and reduce carbon emissions, but also raise awareness of global warming in inner-city communities. “It is not possible for the climate change movement to win anything significant without the participation of people of color,” says Baird.
Read the interview.
21 Apr 2016:
A Town Made Almost Entirely Out
Of Plastic Bottles is Being Built in Panama
Construction has begun on the world’s first town made almost entirely out of recycled plastic bottles. Located on Isla Colón in Panama, the village will consist of 120 houses and a lodge on 83 acres of tropical jungle.
The first two-bedroom home was built late last year, and is made from 10,000 plastic bottles pulled from Panama trashcans, roadsides, and beaches. The walls of the homes consist of steel cages filled with bottles and then encased in a concrete mix. They are flexible enough to withstand an earthquake, and insulating enough to keep the home up to 17 degrees F cooler than the jungle outside. Because there are so many recycled bottles on the island already, homes can be built quickly and cheaply, said Robert Bezeau, founder of the Plastic Bottle Village. “We are changing the world, without changing the Earth, one home at a time,” he says on the project’s website
20 Apr 2016:
Entries Invited for Third
Annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest
The third annual Yale Environment 360
Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the year's best environmental videos. Submissions must focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and be a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, and two runners-up will each receive $500. The winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360
. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360
editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker
writer and e360
contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. Deadline for entries is June 10, 2016. Read More.
15 Apr 2016:
As Smog Continues to Worsen,
New Delhi Bans a Million Cars From the Road
For the second time this year, a million New Delhi cars will be forced to stay off the road each day for the next two weeks in an effort to reduce the city’s hazardous air pollution levels.
Smog in New Delhi, India
The Indian capital was ranked the world’s most polluted urban center in 2014, with smog concentrations frequently reaching hazardous levels for children, the elderly, and people with heart or respiratory issues. The Delhi decision follows a similar recent driving ban in Mexico City, where heavy smog and high ozone levels have also raised health concerns. But some scientists argue that such bans are insufficient to combat escalating pollution problems in developing world megacities. “It is exactly like taking out 10 buckets of water from the ocean, the magnitude of the pollution problem is such,” Gufran Beig, the chief scientist at India’s state-run System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research, told The Guardian
30 Mar 2016:
Air Pollution Linked To
Thousands of U.S. Premature Births
Air pollution may be causing thousands of premature births in the U.S. every year, particularly in urban areas like the Ohio River Valley, Southern California, New York City, and Chicago, according to a new study
in the journal Environment Health Perspectives
. Scientists at New York University compared levels of fine particulate matter, a type of pollution less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, to numbers of premature births, meaning a baby born more than three weeks early. They found that over three percent of all preterm births in the U.S. in 2010 can be attributed to air pollution, and that it cost the country more than $4 billion in medical expenses and lost economic productivity. The exact mechanism behind this relationship is not known, but researchers theorize that air pollution inflames the placenta
during pregnancy, spurring early labor. Preterm birth is associated with a slew of medical issues, from cognitive impairment to breathing and feeding problems.
Rethinking Urban Landscapes To Adapt to Rising Sea Levels
Sea levels are rising faster than they have in at least 28 centuries, according to recent research, and by 2100, they are expected to rise by one to four feet — possibly even higher.
Landscape architect Kristina Hill argues that cities throughout the world need to start planning now for impacts that will happen 50 or 100 years in the future. “It takes decades for us to get our act together and build things,” says Hill, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “Future generations won’t have the luxury of decades.” Hill advocates blending natural ecosystems and human-made infrastructure to help cities adjust to rising tides. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she talks about her vision for modifying coastal communities, the limits to adaptation, and the promise of “cyborg landscapes.”
Read the interview.
02 Nov 2015:
Urban Fruit Less Polluted and
Often More Nutritious Than Retail Versions
Fruits grown in urban areas, often in abandoned orchards from previous centuries, are proving not only largely free of pollutants,
Measuring nutrients and pollutants in urban fruits.
but more nutritious than their commercial counterparts, according to research from Wellesley College
. Joining forces with the League of Urban Canners, a citizens' group based in Boston, the researchers analyzed nearly 200 samples of apples, peaches, cherries, and other urban fruits and herbs, along with commercial varieties of the same foods. Their findings suggest that eating urban fruit is not a significant source of lead exposure, as compared to the EPA's regulated benchmark for lead in drinking water. The concentrations of the nutrients calcium and iron found were higher in urban fruits for every fruit type tested, while manganese, zinc, magnesium, and potassium concentrations were higher in certain urban fruit types. That is most likely because soils in commercial orchards and fields can become nutrient-depleted, researchers say.
19 Oct 2015:
Oslo, Norway, to Ban
Cars in Its City Center By 2019
Oslo, Norway, will ban cars
from its city center by 2019, becoming the first European capital to adopt a
Bikes line the streets of central Oslo, Norway.
permanent prohibition on cars in its downtown area. The newly elected city council announced that the city would also build at least 60 kilometers (37 miles) of new bike lanes by 2019 and provide a “massive boost” of investment in public transportation. Business owners in central Oslo fear that the car ban will reduce revenues, but leaders of the new council said the ban could even increase visitors to downtown and that the city would take steps to reduce negative impacts, including allowing vehicles to transport goods to stores and conducting trial runs of the ban to work out problems. Oslo, with 600,000 inhabitants and almost 350,000 cars, would be the first major European city with a permanent central car ban.
09 Oct 2015:
‘Land Grabbing’ Is Accelerating
As Pressure on Agriculture Resources Grows
An area about the size of Japan — roughly 140,000 square miles — has been purchased or
A land-grabbing operation in Uganda
leased by foreign entities for agricultural use during the last 15 years, according to a report
by the Worldwatch Institute. An additional 58,000 square miles are under negotiation, the report found. “Land grabbing,” a term for the purchase or lease of agricultural land by foreign interests, has emerged as a threat to food security in several nations. Globally, over half of this land is in Africa, especially in water-rich countries like the Congo. The largest area acquired in a single country is in Papua New Guinea, with nearly 15,500 square miles (over 8 percent of the nation’s total land cover) sold or leased to foreign entities. Foreign purchase of land in developing countries has surged since 2005 in response to rising food prices and growing biofuel demand in the U.S. and the European Union, as well as droughts in the U.S., Argentina, and Australia. “Essentially no additional suitable [agricultural] land remains in a belt around much of the middle of the planet,” writes Gary Gardner, a contributing author to the report.
Interview: Rallying Hip Hop For
A More Inclusive Climate Fight
For the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., hip hop may be the key to bringing together the movements for social and environmental justice.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr.
Yearwood is head of the Hip Hop Caucus
, an advocacy organization seeking to unite hip hop artists and celebrities with climate activists
, with the goal of fighting for climate justice. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Yearwood describes how the environmental, climate, and social justice movements are linked — poverty and pollution, he says, “are the same thing.” He extols Pope Francis’ emphasis on the vulnerability of the poor to pollution and climate change and insists that the climate movement must become far more inclusive. “The movement — to win — has to be everybody: black, white, brown, yellow, male, female, straight, gay, theist, atheist,” says Yearwood. “We have to build a more diverse and inclusive movement. If we don’t do that, it’s game over. We lose.”
Read the interview.
29 Sep 2015:
Electric Buses Could Lead to
Significant Savings Even for Smaller Cities
Electric buses could save a city with half a million residents — one similar in size to Sacramento, California — roughly $12 million each
Electric bus, Bonn, Germany
year if the city's buses were to run on electricity rather than diesel fuel, according to a study
by the Volvo Group and the audit and advisory firm KPMG. Factors such as noise, travel time, emissions, energy use, natural resource use, and roughly $2.9 million in avoided health care costs contributed to the annual savings, the analysis says. Gothenburg, Sweden's second-largest city, recently began operating a new electric bus line built by Volvo and powered by wind and hydro electricity, says Niklas Gustafsson, Volvo's head of sustainability. The buses' environmentally friendly design, combined with the fact that they are completely silent and emissions-free, has made the line popular in Gothenburg, he says.
04 Sep 2015:
Maya Permanently Altered Land
To Respond to Climate Change, Study Says
Mayan activity more than 2,000 years ago contributed to the decline of Central America's tropical lowlands and continues to influence the land and environment today, say researchers at the University of Texas at Austin
. Evidence shows that during the "Mayacene" — a period from 3,000 to 1,000 years ago when humans began greatly affecting the environment — the Maya's advanced urban and rural infrastructure altered tropical forest ecosystems. Clay and soil sequences indicate erosion and land-use changes, and sediments near wetlands reveal chemical signatures of agriculture, says the study, which was published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews
. The researchers say features such as constructed wetlands, vast field systems, and terraces show that the Maya managed land and water to adapt to climate change and rising sea levels. "Though it has no doubt accelerated in the last century, humans' impact on the environment has been going on a lot longer," said lead researcher Tim Beach.
27 Aug 2015:
NASA Study Quantifies Plants'
Role in Mitigating Urban Heat Island Effect
The presence or scarcity of vegetation is an essential factor in determining how much urban areas heat up, according to a NASA study
Using data from multiple satellites, the researchers found that areas covered in part by impervious surfaces such as asphalt, concrete, and steel had an average summer temperature 3.4 degrees F higher than nearby rural areas. The highest U.S. urban temperatures compared to surrounding areas were along the Interstate-95 corridor from Boston to Washington and around Atlanta and the I-85 corridor in the Southeast. In desert cities such as Phoenix, the urban area was actually cooler because irrigated lawns and trees provide cooling that dry, rocky areas do not, the researchers explain. The urban heat island effect occurs primarily during the day, when impervious surfaces in cities absorb more sunlight than surrounding vegetated areas.
Solar Decathlon: The Search for
The Best Carbon-Neutral House
What’s the latest in well-designed, energy-efficient solar homes? The U.S. Department of Energy has invited 15 teams from colleges across the country to design and build affordable, energy-efficient, and attractive solar-powered houses for the 2015 Solar Decathlon. In addition to functioning as comfortable homes, the houses in the competition must produce at least as much energy as they consume. Here, e360
takes a look at some of this year's entries, which will be on display in Irvine, California, this October. These houses have been engineered to not only embrace energy efficiency and sustainable design, but also to meet the diverse needs of their future inhabitants, from food production to storm protection and disaster relief.
View the houses.
29 Jul 2015:
Global Population Projected to
Reach 11 Billion by 2100, U.N. Estimates
The current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100,
according to a United Nations report
released today. The revised U.N. estimates counter previous projections, which had said that global population would peak at roughly 9 billion by 2050, then gradually decline. Most growth will occur in developing regions, the new report says, especially Africa, which is expected to account for more than half of the world’s population growth between 2015 and 2050. India is expected to become the most populous country, surpassing China around 2022. Nigeria could surpass the United States by 2050, which would make it the third-largest country in the world, the United Nations projects.
13 May 2015:
Car Travel Is Six Times
More Expensive Than Bicycling, Study Finds
Traveling by car costs society and individuals six times more than traveling by bicycle, according to a study
Bicycles parked in downtown Copenhagen
transportation trends in Copenhagen, one of the planet's most heavily bicycled cities. The analysis considered how much cars cost society and how they compare to bicycles in terms of air pollution, climate change, noise, road wear, public health, and congestion in Copenhagen. If the costs to society and the costs to private individuals are added together, the study found, the economic impact of a car is 0.50 euros per kilometer, whereas the cost of a bicycle is 0.08 euros per kilometer. Looking only at costs and benefits to society, one kilometer by car costs 0.15 euros, whereas society earns
0.16 euros on every kilometer cycled because of improvements in the public's health.
06 May 2015:
Backyard Bird Feeders May Put
Native Species at a Disadvantage, Study Says
Backyard bird feeders tend to attract aggressive, introduced bird species while discouraging native species that eat
A sparrow eats at a backyard bird feeder.
insects and nectar, essentially restructuring urban bird communities and skewing them toward non-native species, a new study
says. Data based on nearly 600 surveys of 18,000 birds from 33 species in New Zealand show that yards with bird feeders tended to attract non-native omnivores such as house sparrows, spotted doves, and blackbirds. Outdoor areas without bird feeders had significantly more native bird species such as the grey warbler, whose diet consists mainly of insects. Although the population trends reversed when feeders were removed, the researchers say that over time bird feeders in urban areas likely give non-native bird species a competitive and reproductive edge over native species.
13 Apr 2015:
Public Transportation Spending
Varies With Income and Geography in the U.S.
Households in different regions of the United States spend similar amounts on transportation, but how those costs break down
Transportation spending trends in the U.S.
between gasoline and public transportation varies widely, according to
data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the South, where the average household owns 2.1 vehicles, spending on gasoline is higher and public transportation spending is lower than in any other region. In contrast, households in the Northeast — which own an average of 1.6 vehicles per household — spend the least on gasoline and the most on public transportation of any region in the U.S. The spending breakdown also varies with income. Households in the highest income bracket spend more than $1,400 annually on public transportation — nearly three times the national average of $537 and eight times the $163 spent by lowest-income households.
07 Apr 2015:
Nationwide Vehicle Emissions
Database Could Help Cities Curb CO2
Researchers at Boston University have created a nationwide database
for determining how much carbon dioxide
Nationwide CO2 emissions from vehicle travel
is produced by vehicle travel in U.S. cities and suburbs — an essential part of greenhouse gas reduction efforts, they say. Encompassing 33 years of data, the system provides kilometer-by-kilometer views of vehicle emission trends from roads across the country. Those emissions account for 28 percent of all fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the U.S., the researchers note. The data highlight the ongoing shift in the U.S. toward urban traffic and emissions. For example, cities have been responsible for 80 percent of the growth in vehicle CO2 emissions since 1980 and for 63 percent of total vehicle CO2 in 2012. Emission levels and trends can vary dramatically across different cities, however. Population density hasn't changed much in Salt Lake City since the 1980s, but the per-capita emissions have soared because the suburb and exurb populations are growing, the data indicate.
24 Mar 2015:
Extreme Forest Fragmentation
Documented in Comprehensive New Study
Fragmentation of the world’s forests has become so severe
that 70 percent of remaining woodlands are now within 1 kilometer of a road or other form of development, according to a new study
. Using the world’s first high-resolution satellite map of tree cover, as well as an analysis of seven long-term fragmentation studies, researchers showed that the ongoing destruction of global forests is decreasing biodiversity by as much as 75 percent in some areas and adversely affecting the ability of forests to store carbon and produce clean water. The study, published in the journal Science Advances
, found that 20 percent of the world’s forests are just 100 meters from a human-created “edge.” Even many parks and protected areas have undergone fragmentation, the study said. The few remaining large, virgin tracts of forest are found in parts of the Amazon, Siberia, Congo
, and Papua New Guinea.
19 Mar 2015:
Electric Vehicles Keep Cities
Cooler than Gas-Powered Cars, Study Says
Electric vehicles emit 20 percent less heat than gas-powered cars, which helps mitigate the urban heat island effect and
An electric car recharges its battery.
could lead to lower air conditioner use in major cities, according to research published in the journal Scientific Reports
. Heat emanating from vehicles is an important contributor to the heat island effect — the difference between temperatures in heavily urbanized areas and cooler rural regions — and a shift toward electric vehicles could help, the researchers say. They used data from Beijing in the summer of 2012 to calculate that switching vehicles from gas to electricity could reduce the heat island effect by nearly 1 degree C. That would have saved Beijing 14.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity from air conditioning and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 11,779 tons per day, the study says.
17 Mar 2015:
California Could Install Ample
Solar Power Without Damaging Habitats
California could generate enough electricity from solar power to exceed the state's energy demand five times over, even if solar equipment were only to be installed on and near existing infrastructure, a report in Nature Climate Change
says. The report shows it is possible to substantially boost California's solar energy production without converting natural habitat, harming the environment, or moving solar installations to remote areas far from consumers. Roughly eight percent California's land area has been developed by humans, the study says, and residential and commercial rooftops provide ample opportunity for generating electricity through small- and utility-scale solar power installations. Additional solar facilities could be constructed in undeveloped areas that are not ecologically sensitive, such as degraded lands, the report notes. "Integrating solar facilities into the urban and suburban environment causes the least amount of land-cover change and the lowest environmental impact," says lead researcher Rebecca R. Hernandez.
06 Mar 2015:
Los Angeles City Council Says
Vegetables Can Be Grown Along Sidewalks
The Los Angeles, California, City Council voted
this week to allow residents to grow fruits
Planting in a parkway in Los Angeles, Calif.
and vegetables in the small strips of city-owned land between the sidewalk and street. Doing so used to require a $400 permit, essentially preventing lower-income residents from using the green spaces, which are also known as parkways. Community groups have been pushing for many years to do away with the permit fee in hopes of improving low-income communities' access to healthy foods, and the council has been working on the ordinance change for almost two years. The mayor is expected to approve the change next week, and if he does, the ordinance will go into effect in 30 days.
24 Feb 2015:
New Map Shows Background
Noise Levels Across the United States
A new map by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) shows America's quietest and noisiest places. The park service
mapped background noise levels across the country on an average summer day using 1.5 million hours of acoustical data. The quietest areas of the country, such as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, are shown in deep blue on this map and are likely as quiet now as they were before European colonization, NPS researchers say. They are collecting the data as part of an effort to determine whether and how wild animals are affected by anthropogenic noise pollution. Owls and bats, for example, rely on hearing faint rustles from insects and rodents, and scientists think human-driven noise could be drowning out those subtle signals in many areas of the country.