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Earth Saver: part 11

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Clare’s dad starts redecorating the living room, and Clare suggests eco-friendly paints.

Okay, this is not good. Our living-room is a total mess. All because of Dad.

It seems that since his company made him redundant a few weeks ago, he’s been getting quite bored at home, just looking for a new job without much success. So today he decided that instead of just sitting around waiting for people to call back, he’d do something useful and do all those little DIY jobs around the house he keeps putting off. Then, apparently, he remembered that Mum had wanted the living room redecorated for Christmas this year, but had given up on the idea because we now can’t afford to hire decorators. So as a sort of Christmas present to her, and so she wouldn’t be disappointed, he decided to do it himself.

Which is why we’ve just come in from school and found him in his grotty work jeans, with the wallpaper steamer, stripping off the last of Mum’s expensive, grey and cream flower pattern paper.

And Mum is less than impressed.

I appreciate the sentiment, really, but what were you thinking?” Mum cries. She’s standing in the living room doorway with her coat half-off, having just brought us back from school. Daisy, Ben and I are standing behind peering in through the door. Gobsmacked.

How do you expect us to afford to redecorate the whole room properly, including furniture, curtains and carpets? Even if we’re not paying hired decorators, it just isn’t going to be feasible. Not now we’re meant to be on a budget!” Mum continues.

I thought we could do it on a budget”, Dad replies, “Look… I know I kind of got carried away with the whole idea, and I’m sorry. But I’ve just been feeling so… useless. I wanted to do something. And besides we’ve already given up a holiday. We shouldn’t have to give up everything, just because  our income’s a little less than before.

You’re meant to be a financial advisor. You know it’s going to more than a ‘little’ out of our income”, Mum groans, “You’re just in denial. You want to think we can afford whatever we like. I know, I look at things in the shops, and I think – I want it, I should be able to afford it. But we can’t do that anymore. We can’t just spend however much we like on food, drink, entertainment, going out or on redecorating.”

There’s a horrible pause. I glance at Ben and Daisy. They both look uncomfortable and gloomy. Mum’s words have hit a nerve. I think we were all hoping that, yes we’d lost a holiday, but that was all. Nothing else would change. All Mum and Dad’s words about saving would only apply to stuff we wouldn’t notice, like the heating.

I’m sorry”, Dad repeats. “So much for that Christmas present idea”, Mum sighs.

It’s alright”, she says, “We’ll just have to buy some cheap paint and redo the walls. And you can buy me that book for Christmas instead.”

Wait”, I say, “If you’re going to repaint we need to use eco-friendly paint.”

Weren’t you listening? We can’t afford fancy paint made from bamboo or whatever”, Daisy says, “And anyway, that’s the difference. It’s just paint.”

Actually”, Ben says, “Normal paints contain Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. They give off  toxic fumes as the paint dries. They can irritate your eyes, nose, lungs and they harm the ozone layer. Some countries have already banned paints high in VOCs, and I think some new regulations possibly in 2010 banned the production of paints with VOCs, but don’t quote on me on that.”

I stare at Ben in surprise.

How’d you know all that?” I ask.

I’m studying A level chemistry”, Ben shrugs, “Paints contain chemicals.”

So have you read that website that says that 30 litres of non-biodegradable waste is created for every litre of non-eco-friendly paint made?” I retort.

No. But thanks for that. I’ll use it in my next assignment”, Ben grins.

Well, I think based on those figures we have no choice, but to buy eco-friendly paint”, Dad says, “If we’re going to honour Clare’s green project. And you know, I bet a change of colour is probably all we need. All the furniture is sort of magnolia and beige, so it’ll match anything.”

I think you mean neutral colours, but yes you’re right”, Mum nods, “Perhaps a change in colour will do it.”

Oh, if you’re-painting the living-room a different a colour”, I say. “Can we get new thick curtains to keep in the heat? We don’t have to get second-hand. I have a couple of ideas for curtains that would be even more eco-friendly. You know cotton is grown with a lot of pesticides?

No”, Daisy says in bored drone.

Well, you can buy organic cotton by the metre and then make things out of it. So we could buy some material and make curtains.”

Great”, Mum nods, “If I knew how to sew.”

Daisy does”, Ben points out. Daisy freezes and then glares at Ben.

It’ll probably still be quite expensive”, Mum says.

OK, then how about repurposing”, I say.

Which is?” Daisy asks.

It’s rather like recycling. You take something you already have and convert it into something else. Which is similar to upcycling, which is where you find a new purpose for waste materials or useless objects instead of throwing them away. For example turning old sheets into a set of curtains, or turning bottles into lamps.

So you’re suggesting we make curtains out of old duvets?” Daisy says.

Yep”, I smile.

I suppose we could give it a go”, Mum sighs, “After all, we have a lot of good quality covers and sheets we don’t use anymore. But lets decide what colour we’re re-painting the living-room, don’t you think?

Okay”, I reply.

Well, I don’t know about you”, Dad says cheerfully, “But I’m starving.”

I’ll start on dinner”, Mum says, finally pulling off her coat completely.

I’m going to start my homework. But later, do you want to search for eco-friendly paints Clare?’ Ben says, “You can see what colours are available and I’ll know more about the chemical stuff.

Sure”, I reply.

Your father and I will join you”, Mum nods, “And Daisy can look for curtain making instructions too.”

Daisy pulls a face, and disappears off down the hall, followed by Mum. The conservation obviously over, Ben and I drift off too. As I go upstairs I can’t help but feel a little pleased that, except for perhaps Daisy, the whole family seems to be getting into the swing of going green.

Next Sunday:

Ben’s birthday approaches, and Clare’s dad hints at buying Ben driving lessons, or even a car, as a present. However Clare tries to persuade her parents, and Ben, to go for an eco-friendly option.

Part one // Part two // Part three // Part four // Part five // Part six // Part seven // Part eight // Part nine // Part 10.

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2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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