A Different Dark Web

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We live in an era where we spend most of our waking hours staring at a screen. In fact, the latest Digital 2019 report showed we're spending an average of 6 hours and 42 minutes online each day. 

 

That said, it’s not all bad. The internet has yielded plenty of forward-thinking frills. It’s increased productivity, connectivity, and has provided a bottomless bookshelf for data and information. However, not one of us is naïve to the pitfalls of the internet, either.

 

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One of the most potent, yet lesser-known, side effects of our global internet addiction is its massive carbon footprint. 90% of the 75 million servers that host websites are powered by fossil fuels. The internet’s reliance on dirty energy is so significant that its CO2 emissions surpass that of the entire aviation sector. That makes it the largest producer of greenhouse gases after the United States, China, and India.

 

As the number of people online continues to compound, so does the demand for energy to keep the globe connected. The internet has hooked its claws so deep in the cavities of our society, that it’s impossible to imagine a world without it. It’s becoming a part of us. It’s the most significant thing we’ve built as a species. A widespread sanction or cutback would have far-reaching effects on financial development, economic growth, and global trade openness.

 

In 2010, Greenpeace called on major internet companies to power their data servers on renewables. Ever since, internet giants – Facebook, Google and Amazon among them – have made commitments to green-ify their operations, but it’s proven an arduous and complicated task. Some companies have fared better than others.

 

Amazon continues to be a major purchaser of electricity. Twitter and Vimeo fall behind the new sustainability standard. Popular video streaming services – Netflix and HBO – aren’t meeting the mark either. In fact, online video streaming still produces about 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.  As video quality improves and consumers choose higher-resolution options, pollution is fated to get worse.

More and more, corporate commitments to sustainability draw skepticism from consumers. Many brands project vague and ambiguous sustainability goals – without concrete benchmarks to substantiate their claims.

 

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On the opposite side of the spectrum, both Apple and Google continue to lead the sector in their commitment to renewables. In 2018, Google even bought enough renewable energy to power office and data centers. However, just because they’re no longer polluting our planet, doesn’t mean they’re helping it. In the corporate world, there is an obvious and reoccurring commitment to “protect” the Earth, but not necessarily to repair the damage that has already been done.

 

While it’s easy to sit here and shake our fingers at these corporate powerhouses, they cannot be fully blamed. It is we the consumers that require instant gratification and are driving the massive escalation in e-fulfillment.

 

So, what can we do? We search smarter.

 

While you probably use Google, Yahoo, Bing or one of the other popular search engines, you could be using Ecosia, a greener alternative. Ecosia is an environmentally-friendly search engine that plants trees with every search. For the working adult or parent, this means there is a simple, effective way to help the environment without disrupting your busy routine.

 

Just one search removes about 1 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere. That means, if Ecosia were as big as Google, it could absorb 15% of all global CO2 emissions.

 

Why settle for carbon neutral, when we can be carbon negative? Let’s start not only protecting the Earth, but repairing it as well. Download the extension below and let’s reverse deforestation one search at a time.

 

Renewable Energy Surpasses Coal in the U.S. for the First Time Ever

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Trump’s 2016 campaign was bolstered by his promise to “make coal great again." He tapped into the fear of coal mining communities who felt that they were falling behind– and they were right. Coal-fired electricity has been declining ever since its peak in 2009 and in April of 2019, renewable energy sources surpassed coal for the first time in U.S. history. 

 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewables accounted for 23% of monthly electricity generation, while coal fell to 20%. Renewables encompass a wide range of sources, including hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. This trend reflects a long-term trend towards sustainable energy, but seasonal factors are also at play.

 

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In the spring and fall, demand for heating and air conditioning is at its lowest in the U.S. Therefore, fuels like coal, natural gas and nuclear are at an all-time low, and many plants even undergo maintenance. Nevertheless, record-high wind generation and near-record solar use helped drive renewables to unprecedented heights so far this year.

 

As coal plants continue to shut down and sustainable technology surges, the new will replace the old. By the EIA’s calculations, it may take a couple of years for annual renewable energy use to overcome coal-generated electric, but not even the President of the United States can prevent the inevitable. Green energy is also expected to beat out nuclear energy in 2020.

 

Opportunities for Everyone

 

While coal mining communities are right about their fading industry, they need not be afraid. Clean energy is creating career opportunities in every state and region of America. It’s already outpacing the fossil fuel industry in terms of job growth. In 2018, renewable energy jobs grew by 3.6 percent, adding 110,000 new jobs, and the rate Is expected to nearly double in 2019. 

 

Despite Trump’s tariffs on solar and rollbacks on clean energy policy, sustainable jobs employed 3.26 million people by the end of 2018, amassing three times more jobs than the fossil fuel industry. Broken down by sector, the industry looks like this:

  • Energy Efficiency: 2,324,865 jobs

  • Renewable Energy: 508,484 jobs

  • Solar Energy: 334,992 jobs

  • Wind Energy: 111,166 jobs

  • Clean Vehicles: 253,599 jobs

  • Clean Storage: 74,569 jobs

  • Grid Modernization: 64,377 jobs

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 Solar alone employs more than twice the number of coal workers and is set for 8% growth in 2019. Building sustainable technology is already cheaper than running coal plants and the price goes down every year. 

 

The transition from coal to clean energy means the closing of one door, and the opening of many more. From new jobs to higher wages, every corner of the nation has the potential to benefit from the green revolution already underway. 

 

World Population Day Shows How Far We've Come – and How Close to the Edge We Stand

Humans didn't dominate this planet until very recently. For 200,000 years, we clawed and scratched our path to survival alongside every other creature that crawled this planet. Only 200 years ago, half of all newborns didn't make it to their fifth birthday. That’s why July 11th, 1987, was seen as a day of celebration- the day the global population reached five billion.

 

To commemorate this milestone, the United Nations declared the day an annual event, called World Population Day, to raise awareness about issues that effect the entire human community. They established the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which sought to create a world where “every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled.” This year’s World Population Day is special because it marks the 25 year anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, where UNFPA set ambitious goals for the future.

 

For the most part, they’ve made great progress on those goals. The number of children who don’t live to see their fifth birthday has been cut in half, as well as the number of children who don’t attend primary school. UNFPA has also helped reduce maternal mortality, and provide access to reproductive health and family planning services across the globe, but these issues still need attention. 

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 Regardless, the UNFPA's efforts have uplifted the entire human species. Now, the world population stands at over 7.7 billion. 30 years ago, this feat may have been something to celebrate, but today there is cause for concern. Now, we know that Earth is struggling to support the weight of our accelerating growth. 

 

Problems of a Privileged Population

 

UNFPA’s mission to bolster the developing world is important for humans and the planet. Educating young girls and providing family planning services can enhance quality of life for growing nations and help stabilize the overall population. Project Drawdown, a world research organization that identifies our best strategies for minimizing climate change, ranks educating girls and family planning as number six and seven on their top ten list of global climate solutions. 

 

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However, we also have to consider the implications if developing countries adopt a “developed" lifestyle. Research shows that first-world food waste and dietary choices are two of the largest contributors to climate change. That’s why better food waste management and a plant-based diet rank higher on Drawdown’s list in terms of environmental impact. 

 

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Collectively, a third of our food goes to waste, accounting for 8% of global emissions. In low-income countries, this food is lost before it reaches the supermarket due to problems with distribution and storage. In high-income countries, a third of perfectly edible food is wasted by consumers and retailers for superficial reasons, like bumps and bruises.

 

The Western Diet comes at an even higher environmental cost: one-fifth of global emissions. This is in large part due to the first-world obsession with beef, and the detrimental effects of cattle farming. Adopting a plant-based diet has the potential to eliminate 70% of greenhouse gases. 

 

Eat Smart, Save Humanity

 

This World Population Day calls for a new set of goals. UNFPA is doing their part to uplift the global human community, but we must do our part as humans to make sure there’s still a planet when their mission is complete. There are many strategies for transitioning to a plant-based diet, from meat substitutes to Meatless Mondays, and every effort counts. If every other burger Americans ate was plant-based, there would be no need for further deforestation in the Amazon. To eliminate food waste, don’t judge a fruit by its color! Consumers throw away perfectly good food every day because of irrelevant aesthetic standards. At the retail level, there needs to be a shift in food waste policy. 

 

Humankind has come too far to lose it all to greed and over-indulgence. Developing countries are growing stronger every day, looking to the first-world horizon. For this reason, developed nations need to present a better ideal to strive for, starting with the plates of the privileged. 

Moss Lawns: Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

Since the dawn of suburbia, lawns have been used as status symbols. Originating from the Old French word “lande”, meaning barren land, a well-kept lawn was a way that English aristocrats showed off their wealth to their peers, wasting valuable resources on land used for nothing but aesthetics. 

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This same game of social charades continues today, costing us a third of our public water supply, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In the U.S., this equates to 9 billion gallons of water per day, not to mention the 200 million gallons of gas burned by lawnmowers. Imagine half a million swimming pools dumped daily onto land used solely to impress neighbors. In a world where

population growth and drought spells are growing, we can no longer afford to waste one of our most precious resources just to keep up with the Joneses. However, there is a way that we can have lawns that are both easier to maintain and environmentally friendly. The solution is found in a species considered an enemy to lawnlovers but is a powerful ally in the fight for our planet: moss. 

 

The Magic of Moss

Moss lawns are nature’s velvet carpets, and they’re very beneficial to the surrounding ecosystem. A small moss lawn can absorb more carbon than 275 mature trees. They also:

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  • Produce a ton of oxygen.

  • Require significantly less water.

  • Absorb air pollutants.

  • Prevent soil erosion and runoff.

Not only are they great for the climate, you don’t even have mow them! They’re non-vascular and they never grow more than a few centimeters. All they require is a little moisture and some shade. Plus, they: 

  • Rarely need weeding.

  • Don’t require fertilizer.

  • Thrive in low-nutrient soil.

  • Did I mention they attract fairies and other mythical creatures?

I can’t prove the last part, but the rest is scientifically backed. Moss could be the next wave of eco-innovation. Companies like Green City Solutions are already creating moss benches to offset pollution in big cities. While this trend is just starting to pick up steam in the west, it’s been around for hundreds of years in Japan. In this case, the grass may truly be greener on the other side of the world– and softer. Seriously, if you still don’t believe in the magic of moss, walk barefoot in a moss patch after a rain day. There’s nothing quite like feeling the rush of lively earth running through your toes. 

 

How to Grow a Moss Lawn

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  1. Find some shade. Moss grows better in shaded areas and tends to wither under direct sunlight.

  2. Remove grass and weeds. If there is a spot in your yard where moss is already growing amongst the grass, start there.

  3. Acidify soil. Moss thrives in acidic soil, though it can grow in any pH. The upside to acidic soil is that it discourages grass and weed growth. You can find soil acidifiers at your local gardening store.

  4. Plant moss. The best place to find moss is in your yard, or in a local forest. Just collect patches, transplant them, and they’ll spread rather quickly. You can also buy moss starter kits.

  5. Collect rainwater. Moss does best with rainwater because it can’t filter out all the extra chemicals in tap water. Keep a rain barrel nearby or use tap water if you need to. Moss doesn’t need as much water as grass, but it does need consistent moisture.

  6. Clear leaves. Patches of leaves can inhibit growth, but moss beds are sensitive to raking. You can clear leaves with your hands, or spread a net across your yard when the leaves start to fall. Just roll up the net when the trees have shed they’re layers.

 

Overall, moss requires much less work than traditional lawns. In addition, they aid the surrounding ecosystem and increase biodiversity, while grass lawns are merely mono-crop blocks that spread pesticides. The latter use up an excessive amount of resources in a time where drought is becoming increasingly more prevalent, but moss serves as a much-needed carbon filter that can conserve water and even restore balance to the atmosphere. Let’s ditch these outdated relics of a rich aristocracy and move towards a future of moss-laden fairytales. 

Reviving the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico is expected to get hit by one of the largest “dead zones” on record this July.

A dead zone is a low-to-no oxygen area of water often created by human pollution. Without oxygen, most marine life dies and the entire food web spirals into disarray.   

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Unlike the blatant damage the BP oil spill caused almost a decade ago, this is a death by a thousand cuts, each one coming from a farm along the largest river in the world: the Mississippi. Synthetic fertilizers discharge nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, that are poisonous in excess. Runoff is then carried by the river into the Gulf, triggering algal blooms that explode, die off, then use up most– sometimes all– of the oxygen in the process of decomposition.

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This can happen so fast that fish suffocate while trying to escape. The slower creatures, such as crustaceans, are doomed to die in a state of hypoxia, or lack of oxygen. In addition, the accumulated layers of algae block the sun from photosynthetic phytoplankton– the beings that provide half of the Earth's oxygen. Thus, waters once teeming with life, become void, except for a few resilient microorganisms.

Human Pollution

Dead zones have increased more than tenfold in the last century. Since the 1950s, the presence of nitrogen has tripled and the amount of phosphorus in the water has doubled. This correlates with a rise in human activity, and more specifically, with the proliferation of the meat industry.

In 2017, meat conglomerates Tyson and Smithfield were accused of spawning the largest Gulf dead zone ever recorded. As the industry has expanded to meet the demand of corporations like McDonald’s and Walmart, they’ve plowed vast plots of America’s heartland to make room for soy and corn fields that feed farm animals. Their facilities have changed the surrounding environment for the worse.  

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Studies have shown that the highest levels of nitrate pollution in our waterways can be traced back to these meat suppliers. So, not only does the booming meat industry poison the air, it destroys marine life and even infects our drinking water. The good news is that these companies have been responsive to customer feedback, as was exemplified when Tyson announced a new vegan product. The better news is that dead zones can be reversed.

Turning the Tides

The Black Sea in the Balkans was previously the largest dead zone in the world. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, chemical fertilizers became too expensive, and as farming declined over the next decade, the dead zone shrank. Even though the reversal was unintentional, there are places where deliberate action delivered positive results.

New York was once a favorable stop along the annual migration trail of Humpback Whales, but overfishing and pollution drove them away in the ’70s. In an effort to clean up the Hudson River, government officials implemented new runoff rules and fishing regulations. Cleaner waters brought life back to New York, starting with the little guys like phytoplankton, and then the rest of the food chain– including whales. These majestic creatures have returned in droves over the last decade, after a hiatus that lasted nearly half a century.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with farmers in middle America, hope to achieve a similar restoration in the Gulf and the rivers that lead there. Companies like Cargill are building embankments that reduce harmful runoff and protect wildlife habitats. Farmers are also planting more sustainable crops like wheat, which withhold nutrients and increase biodiversity.

This is not just a problem for the Mississippi River or the Gulf of Mexico. Some of America’s largest Rivers, from the Missouri to the Arkansas, all lead to the Mississippi. The effects of pollution extend much farther than a droplet of contamination, but so do the ripples of our actions. We can turn the tides, for better or for worse.

 

The Ocean’s Most Important Lifeforms Are Suffocating Under the Weight of Our Actions– But We Can Help

Life would not be possible without the ocean. 50-80% of life on Earth lives in the ocean, including the creatures that generate every other breath we take: phytoplankton. Aside from providing crucial oxygen, these blue-green bacteria are the foundation of marine life. They feed everything from plankton to humpback whales. The food chain would fall apart without this crucial link, so the fact that we’ve lost over 40% of phytoplankton in the last century is a threat to life itself. 

 

The ocean is our best defense against climate change, but it’s also vulnerable. It stores a quarter of all emissions and absorbs 90% of the heat on our warming planet. However, rising temperatures are disrupting delicate ecosystems, like the Great Barrier Reef, which has lost 89% of its baby coral to mass bleaching. Most of the blame belongs to large-scale fossil fuel consumption, a solution that requires better regulations, but there are things we can do to minimize our own impact. 

 

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

 

  1. Ride a bike. You can save a pound of carbon dioxide for every mile you don’t drive. 

  2. Plant a tree. One tree will absorb one ton of CO2 over the course of its life. 

  3. Recycle. By recycling just half of your household waste, you can save up to 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide.

  4. Compost. Landfills are one of the biggest emitters of methane, which traps heat at 25 times the rate of CO2. 

 

Cutting Back on Plastic

 

Greenhouse gases are a huge threat to our oceans, and plastic only compounds the effect. Studies have shown that an entire garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute. This may be hard to envision, but the picture becomes painfully clear when you see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

 

Much of the decline in the phytoplankton comes from plastic pollution. Phytoplankton float near the ocean surface, absorbing sunlight for energy. However, plastic clouds the surface, blocking out the sun and suffocating the very beings that give us breathe. 

 

It is quite ironic that we are hurting the very thing that hydrates us with the ways we hydrate. Luckily, we have the power to control our plastic use. There are so many great alternatives, from metal water bottles to mason jars, and we can influence companies to join the growing wave of bio-degradable packaging. If saving the oceans isn’t enough to stop you from cutting back on plastic, hopefully this video of Jason Momoa from Aquaman will scare you into action. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jImhOabojTE

 

In the same way that itty bitty phytoplankton can affect the health of all marine life, our actions matter, no matter how small. Every ounce of greenhouse gas and every plastic bottle saved is a win for our planet. Fighting to reduce our impact is crucial to the future of our planet, but it’s also important to remind ourselves what we’re fighting for. So, if you’re lucky enough to live by one of these beautiful bodies of water, celebrate this World Ocean’s Day with a swim. Bask in the beauty of your human birthright and be grateful– because we could lose it all if we’re not careful.  

 

3 Ways Eating Beef Causes Climate Change – and How You Can Help

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Memorial Day marks the beginning of barbecue season in the United States. From now until Labor Day, the population will eat over 800 hot dogs per second on average. That’s a whopping seven billion hot dogs in one summer. Yet, those numbers are nothing compared to America’s biggest BBQ favorites: burgers and steaks.

 

The US is the world’s top beef consumer at a rate of four times the national average, but countries like China are catching up. Demand for beef is rising across the developing world and could grow 88% by 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Because beef is a resource-intensive process, this trend undermines any hope for future sustainability.

 

3 Ways Cows Cause Climate Change

 

1. One cheeseburger uses 660 gallons of water. That’s two months of showers for one person. More than half of the US’s water goes to animal agriculture, and the global meat and dairy industry uses a third of the Earth’s fresh water.

 

2. Beef production emits 20 times as many greenhouse gases as common plants. Every minute, seven billion pounds of excrement are expelled by farm animals raised in the US. From burps to manure, their waste gives off methane, which traps 25 times as much as heat as carbon.

 

3.  Cattle Farming is the leading cause of deforestation. Latin America is a top beef exporter and they’re expanding to meet increasing demand. This is bad news for the Amazon, considering that farmers clear a land mass the size of Massachusetts every year to make way for cattle farms. They often burn trees to make space, which not only eliminates necessary carbon-consuming trees, it also releases the carbon they had stored.

 

Beef production's contribution to climate change is often understated because the statistics don’t include the effects of land loss. They also don’t consider the consequences of land used to feed cattle, or the resulting devastation of wildlife habitats. A study from the World Resources Institute found that, with all factors calculated, the environmental footprint of the average American diet is close to the amount of greenhouses gases used by non-agricultural energy use– the leading cause of climate change. The good news? Our choices matter.

 

 

How You Can Help

 

If every other burger Americans ate was plant-based, we could at least eliminate the need for further deforestation. Per-capita beef consumption has already dropped by a third since the 1970s, and the meat-substitute industry is growing rapidly. Plant-based meat is now an accessible reality thanks to brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Not to mention, clean meat, which is cultivated in a lab using animal cells, is on the near horizon. Beef-lovers can satisfy their taste buds while minimizing environmental impact.

 

These innovations could be a saving grace for the health of our plant, and for the 56 billion animals slaughtered every year. If you’re a BBQ-loving American, trying throwing an Impossible Burger on the grill this summer, or maybe a less environmentally-intensive meat like chicken. Our dietary choices can ensure that future generations will also get the chance to celebrate our cherished holidays.

 

Consumers have the power to sway corporations with every dollar spent. This year, the CEO of Tyson Foods announced that they will start manufacturing their own meat substitute, stating “plant protein is growing faster than animal protein, we want to be where the consumer is.” If public opinion can influence one of the biggest meat distributors in the world, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.

How Much Would You Pay for Every Other Breath You Take?

It’s this very specific combination of conditions that ensure that phytoplankton can remain in their favorite sunny hangout and continue to provide more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe. But something alarming is happening to phytoplankton. Researchers report that the global population of phytoplankton has fallen approximately 40% since 1950.