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.
19 Feb 2015:
New York City Set for Major
Sea Level Rise By 2050, Report Concludes
The waters surrounding New York City are on track to rise 11 to 21 inches by the 2050s, according to an analysis
NASA climate change models. The city's average temperature, which has increased by 3.4 degrees F since 1900, is set to rise another 5 degrees F by the 2050s, the report says, and annual precipitation is also likely to rise significantly over that period. New York City has already seen sea levels rise by over 1 foot since 1900 — nearly twice the average global rate, according to the report, which was published by the New York City Panel on Climate Change. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the report highlights the urgency of mitigating climate change and adapting to its risks, and he announced a commitment
to cut the city's emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
03 Feb 2015:
Nine of 10 Cities in China Failed
Air Quality Standards, Government Says
Roughly 90 percent of China's large cities did not meet national air quality standards last year, according to the country's
Smog over the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.
environment ministry. Only eight of the 74 cities monitored by the ministry met standards for pollution metrics such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and fine particle concentrations, according to a report published on the ministry's website. The poor results actually represent an improvement over 2013, when only three of the 74 cities met air quality standards, Reuters reports
. Last year, after residents grew increasingly alarmed about air quality in metropolitan areas, China promised to "declare war on pollution" by slashing coal use and closing heavily polluting factories. Still, the government does not expect the national average for fine particle pollution to reach official standards until 2030 or later.
21 Jan 2015:
Filtering Polluted Stormwater
Through Soil Can Protect Salmon, Study Says
Filtering polluted runoff from urban areas through a simple soil mixture dramatically reduced the water's toxic metal and
A pair of coho salmon.
hydrocarbon content and made it safe for coho salmon and the insects they eat, according to new research
. Scientists collected polluted runoff from a four-lane highway in Seattle, then filtered part of the water through a mixture of sand, compost, and shredded bark. Coho salmon and aquatic insects thrived in the filtered stormwater, but they quickly died in the unfiltered water, researchers reported in the journal Chemosphere
. Chemical analyses showed that filtering the water through the soil mixture reduced toxic metals by 30 to 99 percent, polyaromatic hydrocarbons to levels at or below detection, and organic matter by more than 40 percent. The research supports the use of rain gardens and other natural stormwater filtration systems, the authors say.
05 Jan 2015:
U.S. Cities Are Significantly
Brighter than German Cities, Scientists Say
German cities emit several times less light per capita than similarly sized American cities, according to new research
published in the journal Remote Sensing
Berlin, Germany, at night
Moreover, the differences in light emission become more dramatic as city size increases: Light per capita increases with city size in the U.S. but decreases in Germany. Factors such as the type of lamps used and architectural elements like the width of the streets and the amount of trees are likely behind the differences, the researchers say. Energy-efficient LED street lighting
is currently being installed in many cities worldwide, and the researchers expect this to change the nighttime environment in many ways — for example, by reducing the amount of light that shines upward. The study also found that, in major cities in developing countries, the brightest light sources were typically airports or harbors, whereas the brightest areas in large European cities are often stadiums and city centers.
23 Dec 2014:
Madrid Announces Largest
Energy-Efficient Street Lighting Project
The city of Madrid has announced plans
to renew its entire street lighting system with 225,000 new energy-efficient
New energy-efficient street lighting in Madrid, Spain.
bulbs, the world’s largest street-lighting upgrade to date. The new lights, which will afford the city a 44-percent reduction in energy costs, will pay for themselves, according to Philips
, the company supplying the new system. In addition to drawing less overall power, the bulbs’ intensity will be controlled from a central command panel, resulting in less wasted energy. Of the 225,000 new lights, 84,000 will be locally manufactured LEDs, and the city is taking measures to ensure the safe recycling of heavy metals found in the old lamps. Similar, though smaller, projects have been undertaken in Argentina, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
25 Nov 2014:
China’s Lake Ebinur Has Been
Shrinking Dramatically, NASA Image Shows
As this NASA satellite image shows
, Lake Ebinur, located in northwestern China near the border of
Kazakhstan, has shrunk by 50 percent since 1955 as a result of development, agriculture, and natural fluctuations in precipitation. The lake’s saline water is light blue, and the dried lake bed appears white due to salts and other minerals that have been left behind as the water evaporates. The lake’s size fluctuates from year to year due to natural variations in snowmelt and rainfall, and human activity also plays a key role, Chinese researchers say. The nearby city of Bole, with a population of 425,000, consumes significant amounts of water, and farmers irrigate their crops — especially cotton — with water that would otherwise flow into the lake, researchers say. Frequent saline dust storms contribute to desertification, damage soils, harm wetlands, and may be hastening the melting of snow and glaciers downwind, researchers say.