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Earth Saver: part one

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What better way to start a Sunday than with the first instalment of a brand new fictional series on Blue & Green Tomorrow by an exciting, up-and-coming author, Katherine Sankey. Earth Saver follows the story of 11-year-old Clare, who’s inspired by a school project to go green, but is having a tough time convincing her family to share her views…

CRASH!

Clare!

Oops. Sounds like Mum’s tripped over my school bag. Again. I quickly hop off the chair that I’ve put on top of the new table, at great risk to my pocket money, and begin to drag it off when Mum appears in the kitchen doorway. She is holding a disarranged bundle of papers, and looks flustered. I freeze.

What are you doing with that chair?

I almost use the modern art excuse, as according to our art teacher even messy beds are art, but I tell the truth automatically instead.

Checking the light bulb”, I say slowly. Mum’s eyes widen at exactly the same time as her eyebrows go up.

What?!” She cries, dumping the papers on the table. “You could’ve hurt yourself! You could’ve fallen off and broken your leg!” She picks up the chair and plonks it on the floor, scowling. “And why do you want to check the light bulb anyway?

It’s a school thing”, I reply. “We’ve started doing climate change and sustaina-bal-ity.”

Sustainability”, Mum interjects.

Yeah, that, at school. Our homework is to see how eco-friendly our home is against this checklist and then write an essay about our findings. One of the checks is counting all the low energy bulbs in the house.”

Alright, but ask next time before you start risking your neck”, Mum says, and then frowns at the table surface, rubbing it with her finger, “And the furniture.”

Okay…” I sigh.

Good. So, don’t do it again, please”, Mum says. “As for your homework, I can tell you if there’s a low energy bulb in a light or not.”

Is there one in that one?” I ask, pointing to kitchen light. I hope there is, so far the only one I’ve found was in the coat cupboard.

No, afraid not”, Mum says simply, starting up the coffee machine.

Really?! But that means we only have one low energy light bulb in the whole house!

Do we?” Mum replies distractedly, “I suppose we do. Being eco-friendly never really occurred to me and your father when we chose the light fittings.”

I look at what I’ve put down on the check list, with the exception of the lone bulb, all I can tick off is that we recycle. Oh, and that we have a bowl made from a recycled record, and even then I found someone had dumped six dead batteries in there. I sigh.

Listen I have to finish some paperwork. Dinner at seven as usual”, Mum says, taking her coffee and papers.

Okay”, I reply, as she disappears off to her office.

I decide to continue with the checklist. The next thing is how many appliances are left on, and how many are left on stand-by normally. I’d never noticed before, but we seem to keep every light in the house on, and we seem to have loads of lamps, as if Mum’s been subconsciously collecting them.

The checklist also requires that I check our appliances for the EU Energy label. The teacher explained that these labels show a grading from A to G; A being the greenest and best rating, G being the lowest. Most of our appliances only have E, if they have a label at all. I go through the kitchen cupboards and find all those things we never use, the waffle machine, the toastie maker, a candy-floss machine? I drop the electronic juice maker on the floor searching for the label. When I pick it up again it rattles. I decide not to mention this to Mum and Dad. After all, they’ll never know, Mum gave up that smoothie diet months ago.

Finally I review the checklist. It’s not good. Our home has a very low score, putting it in the very, very bad section. The only way we’d be worse is if we started creating our own nuclear waste. Something I wouldn’t put that past my brother Ben, frankly. He’s studying chemistry, and he claims he wants to be an evil scientist.

There’s no time for me to start my essay though, before Mum calls for dinner, but there is enough time for me to decide that I have to do something.

At dinner, I make my grand move.

Everyone, I’d like to call a family meeting to discuss an extremely serious crisis”, I announce sternly. Mum and Dad exchange slightly puzzled and worried looks, Ben and Daisy exchange disbelieving ones.

The polar ice caps are melting!

I am immediately interrupted by the snorting and giggling of Ben and Daisy.

Uh?” I exclaim. I can’t believe they’re laughing.

Stop it you two!” Dad scolds.

This is serious!” I cry, “We’re experiencing global warming, and oil shortages.”

So?” Daisy shrugs. “You can’t stop it.

Yes we can. I saw a movie at school about it called the Inconvenient Truth”, I say quickly.

That film contains inaccuracies” Ben says.

The teacher mentioned that too. But global warming is still happening”, I turn to Daisy, “I checked the internet, and other websites agreed. Including NASA.”

Phooey”, says Ben, flicking his fringe out of his eyes.

I didn’t say it wasn’t happening”, Daisy says exasperated, “I said it was too late to stop it. Doesn’t matter how many solar panels you stick on a house.”

Yes it does!” I cry.

No it doesn’t”, Ben says, through a mouthful of pasta.

Alright” Mum calls, “Enough!

We all shut up.

Thank you”, Dad says, “For that lively debate, but lets finish our dinner shall we? Peacefully?

But I haven’t finished”, I squeak, “Everyone interrupted me.

Mum sighs,“Go on then, what were you going to say?

And skip the speech”, Daisy says, rudely. I glare at her.

Well, I was going to say that I don’t think we’re very eco-friendly.”

Of course we’re eco-friendly”, Dad says, smiling, “We recycle.”

Dad, everyone recycles”, I groan.

We have the allotment”, Mum says, “And grow organic.”

I decide not to point out that the allotment is just a field of nettles at the moment, and that the only thing we’ve had from there were a few small potatoes, two mouldy carrots and a bunch of salad tomatoes; and Dad used greenfly killer on them, I saw him. He bought my silence with an ice cream afterwards.

But we could do more! We’re wasting so much energy. All the light bulbs need changing to low-energy ones for starters, then there’s water… I mean, do Daisy and Ben both have to have a shower every night?

Ben does”, Mum says grimly. Ben rolls his eyes. I interrupt before we get into another smelly feet argument.

We use too many appliances, don’t have anything solar powered, we own three cars… in fact…” Suddenly I realise what we should to do. “… Why don’t we go completely carbon natural?!

A snigger from Ben. Mum sighs.

I think you mean carbon neutral”, Dad explains, “And, it’s a nice idea, love, but we can’t go completely carbon neutral just for a school project. Remember how much hassle we had just redecorating the dining room?

Dad, this isn’t just for school. I’m being serious”, I tell him.

That’s what you said when you decided you were vegetarian”, Mum points out, “Remember how much tofu we had to throw away?

But Mum, Dad…” I cry, but they’ve started asking Ben and Daisy about college. Great! I’ve been argued with and ignored. So this is how Al Gore felt.  I’m not giving up though. No way…

Next Sunday:

Clare attempts to be eco-friendly by herself, but finds that everything she tries ends up getting her into trouble.

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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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