Atop hundreds of bus stops, rest stops for bees.
- A Dutch city is creating tiny parks on top of bus stops to house bees.
- It's part of a larger initiative to create a healthy urban living environment.
- Urban beekeeping serves an important ecological function.
The Dutch city of Utrecht has set out on a new greenery initiative. Over 316 bus stop roofs were recently covered with grasses and a succulent plant called sedum. The shelters are meant to attract honey bees, bumblebees, and butterflies. Their hope is that new habitats will form and strengthen the biodiversity in the middle of the city.
Like many places in the world, the Netherlands insect population has dramatically dropped. Adding these tiny greenery patches could help foster a green urban environment and give the surrounding ecosystem all the benefits that come from having bees around.
The city believes that the green roofs will bring about a cleaner infrastructure.
Healthy urban living
Heavy rains have been taking a toll on Utrecht's infrastructure due to climate change. Patches of vegetative growth can help mitigate that problem to a certain extent and soak up the water. Increased greenery helps cool an area as well. With July being the hottest month on world record, European countries need to figure out better ways to keep their urban centers out of the heat.
Annelies Kieboom from Mobilane, a representative from the company behind the green roofs, stated that the tiny parks can also improve air quality. "The sedum filters the air, catches fine dust, and in this way, improves the quality of the air.
The city's aim is to create an environment of healthy urban living. The roofs need minimal maintenance and are attended to by workers driving electric cars. People taking the bus can cool off and relax on bamboo benches.
They're also working on rolling out 55 new electric buses by the end of the year. Planning to keep the renewable vision at all stages of the process, the electric buses will even be powered by Dutch windmill energy.
Utrecht also has incentives for homeowners to install green roofs on their houses. According to the research, this is a step forward in the right direction. Green roofs also earn credits toward a building receiving a LEED (Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design) certification. As noted, green roofs provide water control, miniature wildlife habitats, and increase urban air quality.
Bringing in bees has been found to better the environment as well, they serve an important agricultural role as pollinators.
Bees and the environment
A vast horde of bees have been dying off year after year. Bees are an integral force to local ecosystems and economies. Bees are crucial in helping the harvest of crops.
Among the many threats to wild bees, including climate change and rampant use of pesticides, habitat loss is one of the biggest factors affecting population — which is where the tiny parks come in. While there hasn't been any scientific research into Ultrecht's green roof plan, yet, that isn't to say these parks couldn't help.
Four years after the Lurie Garden opened in Chicago, Rebecca Tonietto, a biologist was surveying bees and discovered that some of the plants were harboring a native sweat bee that had never been found in Illinois before.
The research and essay titled: "The city as a refuge for insect pollinators," found evidence that it's beneficial for insects such as the bee to live in high density habitats with humans, where pesticides are not usually sprayed upon large swaths of land.
Surrounded by increasingly less hospitable rural and suburban landscapes, the city can become a refuge."
Turning salt water into fresh water with the power of the sun.
- New solar-powered desalination plant provides fresh water in Kenya.
- The plant is already able to support 25,000 people a day.
- As more water-scarce regions pop up worldwide, technology such as this offers an energy efficient way to provide fresh water.
We are only at the beginning of an increasingly more perilous worldwide water crisis. The ability to turn seawater into drinking water will be able to turn the tides on this problem before it grows.
Desalination on an industrial scale would change the world.
We may be witnessing the first instances of a viable and scalable desalination effort. At a newly constructed solar-powered desalination plant in Kenya, a nonprofit called GivePower has been able to provide fresh water to thousands. The desalination plant opened up on the coasts of Kiunga in July 2018, and today it's capable of creating 19,800 gallons (75,000 liters) of drinking water each day. That's able to support around 25,000 people.
Hayes Barnard, the founder and president of GivePower, is taking his experience from the solar field and applying it to fresh water source crises.
"Humanity needs to take swift action to address the increasingly severe global water crisis that faces the developing world," he says. "With our background in off-grid clean energy, GivePower can immediately help by deploying solar water farm solutions to save lives in areas throughout the world that suffer from prolonged water scarcity."
GivePower’s solar power desalination device
GivePower started off in 2013 as a nonprofit branch of SolarCity, Elon Musk's failed solar-panel company that was eventually absorbed into Tesla in 2016. Barnard spun off GivePower into its own organization before the merger.
He spent almost two years in San Francisco building the machine, he hopes the technology could one day reach the more than two billion people who live in water-scarce areas. The nonprofit works mostly on building solar-energy power plants that provide electricity all across the developing world.
According to GivePower, they've "already deployed more than 2,650 solar-powered energy systems to schools, medical clinics and villages in 17 developing countries GivePower is focusing its efforts on the most critical use case of sustainable energy: reliable access to clean water."
The Kiunga facility initially cost $500,000 to build and took one month to construct. They hope to generate $100,000 per year from the plant, and then funnel that money into building new facilities. The eventual goal is to cut costs to $100,00 per solar-powered desalination plant in the future. Barnard hopes that the systems will fund each other to create an additional system every five years.
Part of their initial funding came from a $250,000 grant by Bank of America last year.
Access to the system comes from people using the M-Pesa payments app. Locals only have to pay a fourth of a cent for every liter of water. Barnard points out that this is astronomically less than what is usually $1 per liter from premium water brands.
The installation in Kiunga has already made a lot of headway and fundamental change for the people living there.
Fresh water crisis and women’s rights
It's estimated by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) that one third of the world's population don't have access to safe drinking water. By 2025, half of the world's population may live in water-scarce regions. Cities in Africa, China, and India are already facing this problem.
It's been found that limited access to fresh drinking water keeps women out of the educational system. According to a report by the UN Commission for Human Rights, women and children in Africa and Asia must walk an average of 3.7 miles a day to procure water.
The UN states that "between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise."
This is why Barnard thinks that it's so crucial to bring water directly to them. The ongoing climate crisis will only make these types of solutions more crucial for affected communities .
GivePower hopes to establish a local thriving community around these new fresh water sources. One that'll encourage health, safety and even commerce. Already, Barnard has seen a group of women that have started a freshwater clothes washing service. It's his hope and intention that this spurs economic activity for women and affects the community at large.
The ingenious technology of solar powered desalination may just be the panacea for the growing water crisis. Once basic human needs are met, these water-scarce regions would not only survive but eventually flourish.
Tiger reserves and a concentrated public effort has brought this animal roaring back to India.
- India's tiger population has grown to nearly 3,000, making it, by far, the country with the largest wild population.
- Their wild population increased over 33 percent in just four years.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it his goal to increase tiger conservationist efforts.
India now has nearly 3,000 tigers living in the wild. Due to concentrated conservation efforts and stricter wildlife policies, India's tiger population soared 33 percent between 2014 and 2018. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently presented the latest tiger census, said that the population has risen from 2,226 in 2014 to 2,967 in 2018.
The worldwide tiger population has been in a steep decline. With an estimated global population of 4,000 — India is home to around 70 percent of the world's tigers.
Mr. Modi remarked that India is "now one of the biggest and most secure habitats of the tiger."
Nearly a decade ago, India had embarked on a nationwide goal to double its Bengal tiger population by 2022. They've now reached that goal four years ahead of schedule. In order to protect their gains and expand their tiger population, they'll have to keep enforcing their wildlife policies while also ensuring the safety of their new sanctuaries.
India’s tiger reserves
Wildlife Institute of India National Tiger Conservation Authority
In the past 10 years, India has created nearly two dozen new reserves. Aside from creating space for tigers to live and prosper, these protective areas also create new spaces for wildlife and forests to flourish.
Tens of thousands of Indian officials and scientists track and count these tigers once every four years. They utilize a mixture of camera traps and video recognition software that creates a three-dimensional representation of each individual tiger. They usually have to cover a landmass of about 193,000 square miles.
The conservation efforts come in the wake of a devastating loss that occurred over the span of the past century. It's estimated that between 1875 and 1925, 80,000 tigers were killed in just India alone. Sports hunting and official governmental sponsored killing sprees by kings and officials of the era sanctioned and encouraged this mass slaughter.
Eventually, the Indian government came to its senses and in 1972 enacted a law that essentially made it illegal to kill or capture any kind of protected wild animal. With continued awareness and strict enforcement, the hunting died down. With the help of global conservationists, India invested more money into the protection and growth of their reserves.
In certain parts of India, there is still strife between local villages and tigers. More will have to be done to educate the populace in these areas and strengthen the reserves.
Tiger conservation threats
Some estimates suggest that the tigers are only breeding and living in 10 percent of the total habitat set aside for them. The tigers are underutilizing their space, which often makes them wander outside of these areas and come into conflict with villagers nearby.
Another report, titled "Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of Tiger Reserves 2018," showed that at least half of India's reserves are facing encroachment threats from infrastructure like roads and rail lines.
Conservationists fear that the isolated conflicts that usually occurs on the edge of the reserves, will increase as protected areas grow. Tiger reserves are still threatened by illegal poachers, pollution, unchecked industrialism and climate change.
Modi believes that India's tiger habitats should be expanded:
"There is a very old debate — development or environment. . . and, both sides present views as if each is mutually exclusive."
He understands that there needs to be a balance struck between proper economic development and the protection of the environment.
"In our policies, in our economics, we have to change the conversation about conservation. India will build more roads and India will have cleaner rivers. India will have better train connectivity and also greater tree coverage. India will build more homes for our citizens and at the same time create quality habitats for animals. India will have a vibrant marine economy and healthier marine ecology. This balance is what will contribute to a strong and inclusive India."
This may just be the beginning of a tiger resurgence, if this type of thought prevails over India's tiger conservationist efforts.
Our clean energy needs to be sourced responsibly right from the get-go.
- Clean technologies rely on a wide range of metals sourced from unsustainable mining.
- Mineral extraction damages local communities and environments, destroying cultures and biodiversity in the process.
- Human rights and conservationist efforts are put at risk due to mining.
The many consequences of climate change are innumerable. Most of the civilized world understands that we need to put forth new, alternative solutions of generating energy to curb our greenhouse emissions.
The Paris Agreement, for instance, set an ambitious global goal to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) by transitioning away from fossil fuels into renewables. However, a new extensive research report by the environmental non-profit Earthworks has found that this shift into a fossil fuel-free economy comes with its own set of egregious societal and conservationist problems.
The blind rush to get "100 percent" renewable energy usage will get us nowhere. It's the same industrialist mindset that got us into this pickle. We need to approach this next energy wave with caution and care.
Renewable energy transition
Clean technologies require a wide variety of rare earth metals and other minerals, mostly including cobalt, nickel, lithium, aluminum, and silver. Batteries for electric cars makeup the biggest driver of mineral acquisition.
Study co-author, Elsa Dominish, remarks that, "A rapid increase in demand for metals for renewable energy. . . could lead to mining of marginal or unconventional resources, which are often in more remote or biodiverse places."
Many of these areas rich in minerals are remote wilderness, which have yet to be touched by any commercial endeavor.
"The transition toward a renewable energy and transport system requires a complex mix of metals — such as copper, cobalt, nickel, rare earths, lithium, and silver — many of which have only previously been mined in small amounts," states Earthworks' report, in reference to the supply chains of the 14 most important minerals used in renewable energy production.
Payal Sampat, director of Earthworks' Mining Program, sees this as a crucial time to focus on the core aspects of what an environmental movement should be focusing on.
"We have an opportunity, if we act now, to ensure that our emerging clean energy economy is truly clean–as well as just and equitable–and not dependent on dirty mining. As we scale up clean energy technologies in pursuit of our necessarily ambitious climate goals, we must protect community health, water, human rights, and the environment."
Under the supposition that all of human society would use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, researchers charted out what other aspects of the environment would be affected as we attempted to reach this goal.
The study explores the impacts that mining has on human society and culture, as well as the potential for even greater losses of biodiversity.
With a world running completely on renewables, the metal requirements would be astronomical. The only way you're going to feed this need is by opening up more mines worldwide. Combined with our unsustainable mining practices, we'll be doing more harm than good.
Large scale commercial strip mining of forests, slave labor, and ecological destruction would all be necessary to feed our current "green dream."
Industrialism is the problem
Mineral extraction levies an incredible cost on the communities and ecological landscape of a place. Material mined for renewable energy fuels the violation of human rights, pollutes local water sources, and often destroys wildlife.
Cobalt, which is the most important component of rechargeable batteries, is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo; often by children in dangerous working conditions. The authors of the report found that cobalt is the "metal of most concern for supply risks," as 60 percent of its production occurs in Congo, a country with an abysmal record of human and environmental catastrophes.
In 2016, Amnesty International found that more than two dozen major electronics and automotive companies were failing to ensure that their supply chains of cobalt didn't include child labor. Amnesty blamed both Congolese officials and Western tech companies for ignoring the problems endemic to their supply chain. Irresponsible and dangerous cobalt mining is a global problem. According to the report, China's Congo Dongfang International Mining (CDM) owns exclusive rights to one quarter of the cobalt ore, of which the mines it flows from all employ child labor.
"The renewable energy transition will only be sustainable if it ensures human rights for the communities where the mining to supply renewable energy and battery technologies takes place," said Dominish.
Sustainability and conservation
At present, write the authors, "Reducing the environmental and social impacts of supply is not a major focus of the renewable energy industry. In order for there to be a potential solution to all of this, there must be a convergence of different industries within the environmentalist movement. The recognition of renewable energy companies with conservationists, in particular, needs to be at the forefront.
"If manufacturers commit to responsible sourcing this will encourage more mines to engage in responsible practices and certification. There is also an urgent need to invest in recycling and reuse schemes to ensure the valuable metals used in these technologies are recovered, so only what is necessary is mined," states the report.
Recycling sources will be one way to mitigate demand, but this won't stop new mining developments from popping up in fragile wildlife areas. This is why responsible sourcing needs to be the next best step if these mines are going to be created, anyhow.
France's forests are even creeping up on their major cities.
- Forests account for over 31 percent of France's land.
- While most of the world is losing woodland to farmland, France is gaining.
- France has both a public and private effort working on reforesting rural and urban areas.
Deforestation plagues vast swathes of the world. As rainforests are decimated — an unthinkable amount of trees are destroyed every second. Yet, in Europe this trend seems to have reversed.
Look no further than Provence, France, where resurged greenery cuts through mountain passes and sprouts up to form one of France's newest natural parks — the Baronnies Provençales. Set up only four years ago, and spreading more than 1,800 square kilometers (approx. 700 square miles), this mixed forest of oak, pine and beech is a testament to France's dedication to regrowing their ancient forests.
While the forests of the world are on the decline, those in France are quietly rising.
Successful reforestation effort
The French start-up EcoTree, launched near Brest in 2016, buys forests all over France to restore them. Photo credit: FRED TANNEAU / AFP / Getty Images
Current estimates show that forests cover 31 percent of France. The country is ranked fourth, in terms of largest forests, within the European Union. It is only surpassed by Sweden, Finland, and Spain.
Due to a concentrated reforestation effort and decline in farming, the past 30 years has seen France's forested areas increase by 7 percent. This hasn't been resigned just to France either. During the 1990s, Europe initiated something called the Common Agricultural Policy, which ensured only productive areas would be used as cropland to prevent inefficient farming. Land that was lacking was turned back into forest.
Between 1990 and 2015, Europe's total forestland grew 90,000 square kilometers — about 35,000 square miles. There has been so much progress, in fact, that there are more trees and larger forests in the EU today than there were at the start of the 20th century.
France's success can be contributed to a collective effort of private individuals and public forestry initiatives working together. A majority of the forests are on private land. With a total of 16.4 million hectares and increasing every day, new French forests reclaim old agricultural and industrial wastelands to fuel their growth.
The trees and plants being planted will do well to keep up with carbon dioxide absorption demands and fight climate change. Already within the Baronnies Provençales natural park, people are beginning to see rare species, such as the black vulture, reemerge.
Still, the new forests aren't without their fair share of complex problems and challenges.
There are some 34,000 people who live inside the new Baronnies Provençales. Some of the inhabitants see the black pine as a pest, which sometimes grows on their pastureland. The Economist notes that there was an initial backlash from local groups who were wary at the rapid pace at which the forest was being reclaimed. Audrey Matt, who is in charge of the park's forests, is on record saying, "The fact that forests are growing here can be problematic… It all depends which way round you look at it."
Many forests in France and Europe have become scarred with the scourge of beetle infestation. Also with the risks of extended heatwaves, these new forests are liable to burst into flames amid dry weather and turn into dangerous wildfires.
Yet, the benefits still outweigh many of the potential problems. Which is why France is also taking its reforestation efforts into the urban realm as well.
Urban forests in Paris
Photo credit: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT /AFP / Getty Images
Mayor Anne Hidalgo recently announced a new greenery plan for the city of Paris. One that's going to bring more forests right into the city itself.
The plan is to begin planting forests near many of Paris's historic landmarks, such as Hôtel de Ville (Paris's city hall) and the Opéra Garnier. These groves will be placed in both busy and dormant pedestrian areas. Part beautification, part practical, the trees will alleviate intense heat during the increasingly sweltering summer months.
Paris is more susceptible than most places during a heatwave as it's considered an urban heat island. The mayor intends to counteract that with what she calls an "isle of coolness."
If all goes according to plan, 20,000 trees will be planted by 2020. The capstone of the goal is to cover half of the City of Light's acreage with trees by 2030.
Paris could have a potentially radical new look with the simple addition of all of this beautiful foliage.