Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.

Climate Shift Is Already Impacting the East Coast: What You Need to Know

 

Climate shift is a phenomenon that people often think about in abstract terms. Even if they accept that it’s happening, they frequently assume its effects won’t be evident during their lifetimes. However, scientific evidence is proving them wrong, especially on the East Coast of the United States.

Coastal Infrastructure Is at Risk Due to Sea Level Rise

Developers frequently built coastal infrastructure on low-elevation land to save money. However, analysts warn that power plants, wastewater treatment facilities and transportation networks could get shut down due to extensive flooding that’s becoming increasingly likely to happen due to climate change.

Scientists point out that as sea levels rise, the amount of rainfall that has to occur before significant problems happen goes down. Plus, the rain or snow generated by storms is different than it once was. Small storms bring the same amount of moisture as larger ones did, while the bigger ones are more intense than ever.

During March 2018 alone, national weather data indicates that four nor’easter storms hit the East Coast region. Plus, some cities in that area had more snow during March than the preceding winter months combined.

Researchers say climate change is not the only factor that contributed to those storms, but it likely gave momentum to their intensity. They bring up the exceptionally high ocean temperatures in areas off the Atlantic coast as an element of climate shift that could cause higher-than-normal snowfalls.

Elevation and Coastal Flooding Risk Factor Into Property Investments

Both scientific research and the experiences of real estate professionals in some East Coast markets confirm that investors are keeping rising sea levels and climate shift in mind when considering whether to invest in properties. Specifically, land that’s at a greater risk of flooding sells for less than properties on higher ground.

One Massachusetts real estate agent even had to sell a home with a private beach for 9 percent less than the list price and said it was on the market for nearly two months, which is reportedly substantially longer than usual. The impact on the real estate market will only become magnified if climate shift ends up causing people to move out of areas with a high probability of flooding or never relocating there at all.

Statistics from the 2017 BDO Board Survey, which polled board members, found that shareholders want more disclosure about the kinds of sustainability efforts made by companies. Shareholders likely balk at investing in companies that do not have sustainability plans in place or believe climate shift will not disrupt their business operations. As a result, organizations typically prioritize environmental sustainability as a long-term aim. They realize that now is the time to start altering their practices and keeping the future in mind.

Urban Planners Stay Mindful of Potential Flooding

A report relied on tidal gauges at 98 locations to see how often tidal flooding rose to or above levels that would probably disrupt daily life. Although regional fluctuations existed, scientists found that the likelihood of high-tide flooding nationwide was double the probability of 30 years ago.

That reality has not escaped the minds of urban planners who know they cannot afford to ignore the ramifications of tidal floods. Boston is in the middle of an initiative to safeguard against flooding that includes elevated streets and new flood walls. Planners in Norfolk, Virginia, want to rewrite the city’s zoning codes, requiring newer buildings to be more resilient against flooding than the current ones.

City representatives in New York are taking a similar approach by writing new guidelines for developers involved in constructing flood-ready buildings. They have also put the subway’s ventilation grates at higher-than-usual positions to protect the transportation system proactively.

Rising Sea Levels Are Not Universal

One factor that makes sea levels challenging to cope with is the fact that they don’t rise at the same levels around the world. Scientists created a model of potential future flooding of 20 global cities and found that places like New York and Boston could experience rates that are twice the national average, while other cities could be up to 25 percent below the mean.

Weather experts believe that by 2100, high-tide flooding could happen as frequently as every other day along the East Coast. They also say factors like melting glaciers could cause a sea level rise of as much as 6 feet this century. The phenomenon of rising sea levels causes what’s known as sunny day flooding because it happens in the absence of storms. Experts believe coastal cities along the continental U.S. will notice the effects of higher sea levels more than any other aspect of climate shift.

Climate Change Cannot Be Ignored

Collective research emphasizes that people cannot afford to think of climate shift as something that’ll be most apparent someday. It’s already happening — particularly along the East Coast — and even destinations in other parts of the country that aren’t primarily affected yet will eventually see stronger signs of the changing climate, too.

Photo by Sven on Unsplash


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We Can Still Save Half of the World’s Coral Reefs

Coral reefs by Jim Maragos

Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Did you know that coral reefs cover less than 1 percent of the seafloor but provide food, shelter and safe breeding areas for 25% of marine species? More than 4,000 species of fish and thousands of other plants and animals call reefs their home.

Meet the Architects of the Coral Reefs

Hard polyps, or individual corals, use calcium carbonate to create a hard shell (exoskeleton) around their soft bodies (which don’t have a backbone). When individual polyps die, they leave their exoskeleton while new polyps add their own exoskeleton thus growing the reef.

Tiny algae called zooxanthellae add color to the corals by forming a partnership with the clear polyps and their white exoskeletons. Algae get shelter and take up nutrients not needed by the corals like carbon dioxide and nitrogen while polyps get nutrients and the calcium carbonate they need for their exoskeleton. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral02_zooxanthellae.html

Threats toThe Coral Reefs

1, About a fifth of all coral in the world has died in the past three years. Some experts believe that there is now just half the amount of coral that was in the oceans 40 years ago

2. From draining septic tanks directly into the ocean  to ocean acidification, decades of carelessness about ocean well being has resulted in the alarming disappearance of coral reefs. Other coral reef threats include:

3. Burning fossil fuels releases excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which is then absorbed by the ocean, causing it to become more acidic. Unfortunately, acidic environments make it more difficult for coral to survive.

4. Overfishing can cause imbalances in the ocean ecosystem which devastate coral reefs, dynamite fishing blows reefs into pieces.

5. Rising ocean temperatures cause coral bleaching. Algae produce reactive oxygen at high temperatures which is toxic to both the algae and coral, causing them to separate hence the corals lose their color. If the algae are unable to recolonize the coral within a few months of the separation, their absence can result in the death of the coral, as the polyps are unable to survive for long without the algae.

New Approaches

Growing awareness of both the fragility and importance of coral reefs has resulted in innovative new approaches:

OneReef uses a market-based approach to support communities and local partners to protect 350,000 acres of reef for an annual cost of $2/acre.

Hawaiian lawmakers passed a bill to ban oxybenzone and octinoxate, two ingredients of non-prescription sunscreens which have been shown to damage coral reefs. The bill, which is the first of its kind in the world, will go into effect on January 1, 2021. Researchers found that 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions end up in reefs around the world a year

SECORE, a global network of scientists, public aquarium professionals, and local stakeholders brings a holistic approach including seeding reefs with sexually reproduced coral offspring to maximize resilience. http://www.secore.org/site/home.html

How Earth Law Strengthens Reef Protection

Earth law can protect the ocean in the way that corporate law protects a business. By recognizing Marine Protected Areas as having the right to exist, thrive and evolve – with guardians appointed to speak on behalf of those ocean ecosystems, Earth Law gives standing to local communities to protect their coral reefs in the court of law. As an example of how this would work, Organización para la Conservación de Cetaceos (OCC) and ELC have partnered in Uruguay to try to establish legal rights for the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary in Uruguay

Established in 2013, the Sanctuary faces increasing threats from ships, pollution, and unsustainable fishing. Recognizing rights of the Sanctuary as part of the management plan will provide clear guidelines for permitted and non-permitted activities in the area, thus reducing the threats on that ocean ecosystem. Coral reefs could be protected in similar ways. 

Join us to protect the coral reef. Earth Law Center serves to connect and catalyze local partnerships, consisting of communities, indigenous groups, and guardians, to create new laws, which uphold and defend nature's rights against harm.

Learn more about the ocean framework here

Sign up for our monthly newsletter here

Volunteer on the project here

Donate to the cause here

Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature's rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Natural Balance for the Garden: Create a Toad House

Two Toad Houses 

While working on my latest garden idea, my dad’s work ethic and singsong grace filled the air. Although Dad died over three years ago, the sounds of roofers nearby, whistling their workaday tunes, brought his memory to life. Dad was a whistling carpenter for most of his 90 years...though he insisted on using the title “builder.” He was creative and could find a use for most any everyday object.

Today, I was priming a collection of terracotta pots, readying them for an alternative use: toad houses! As I’ve been planting and weeding in my flower garden this spring, I’ve had the privilege to see a few toads hopping through. These nocturnal creatures eat up to 10,000 pests in a summer -- from spiders to slugs, grubs, snails, moths, and other pesky insects. My garden currently has two beautiful rose bushes, which inevitably become plagued by aphids in summer. I’m hoping that, by placing two of my toad houses beneath these bushes, I will soon welcome more toads as natural pest deterrents. No need for pesticides, which can harm toads (as well as damage many necessary garden critters). Dad would be pleased by the utilitarian use of these small houses.

Toad House Primed

An Inviting Home for Amphibians

An upside-down clay pot serves as an inviting home for these amphibians, as toads like to live in cool, damp places such as under tree roots, boards and rocks. A toad house can be made using a plastic container or a clay pot. Clay will serve as a cooler, more natural environment for these garden helpers. And because these miniature homes will adorn my garden, I’ve turned them into garden decor. After coating the outside of the terracotta pots with white primer, I used acrylic paints to decorate them. Spray polyurethane will serve as a protective coating.

Toad House Flower Top

Placement of Your Toad House

Toad houses should be placed beneath foliage, upside-down on either a circle of small stones with openings for the toads to enter in the front and back, or the rim of the house can be propped up on one steady stone. Be sure to place shallow water dishes nearby, as toads enjoy moisture and absorb water through their bodies by sitting in the water. Keep these water sources rinsed clean and refilled at least weekly, and you should soon be welcoming some happy and helpful amphibians to your garden. If you’re looking for arts and crafts for kids to work on this summer, this is a fun project for any age -- from young children to seniors.

Any day spent reminded of listening to Dad working is a day well spent. Creating these small toad houses that will contribute to a healthy environment in my garden would have given my dad something to whistle about.

Toads Only

Photos by author.

Resources:

Arsenault, Rachel. How to Attract Frogs and Toads to Your Garden. Grow a Good Life. May 16, 2016. Web.

Moorman, Christopher, et al. Reptiles and Amphibians in Your Backyard. NC State Extension Publications. Aug. 23, 2017. Web.

Rhoads, Heather. Toads In The Garden - How to Attract Toads. Gardening Know How. April 5, 2018. Web.


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Creating Natural Balance: Making a Garden Peace Pole, Part 2

Summer Garden

For me, garden art creates natural balance. The flow of creating a piece of garden decor, especially from design to development, enhances my life balance. Seeing garden accessories sprouting in the midst of plants provides a personal human touch to my natural world.

As a writer, a blank page (or, better yet, a blank journal) excites my creativity. The artist in me sees a blank canvas, blank wall – really, any unmarked surface – and imagines the array of designs and colors I could add. For instance, when I was a teen, my dad had steamed the wallpaper off our dine-in kitchen walls. I somehow convinced my parents to let me paint a large mural on the wall behind the dinette table. It took me three years to complete, finished just in time for me to marry and move out of state. I was thrilled when Dad built a frame around this painting of a forested waterfall. The mural remained in place at least until the house sold, some 35 years later.

Just as that painting became a centerpiece in our home, this peace pole was planned to hold court in a special place, too – my garden. The whitewashed, four-foot pole I chose to keep became my blank canvas. I was in awe of the possibilities.

Planning the Artpole Design

Thus began the planning process. I knew the peace pole would ultimately embellish my flower garden, so I began searching for quotations and designs focused on nature. However, garden poles can focus on anything you love and enjoy. For example, my friend who provided the antique newel posts painted one of hers as a gift for her parents. She decorated it with a painting of their beloved dog and other important mementos of their life.

Joy Message

Searching through poetry books and online, I decided on the following words of wisdom:

“Go in peace...it makes the flowers sweeter,” inspired by artist/author Michael Dolan.

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” - poet Gary Snyder

“Lose yourself in Nature and find peace.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Love – Joy – Peace”

Go in Peace Message

These were just the right words for this garden peace pole. Propped atop two paint-splattered sawhorses (put to use over the years during many home improvement and art projects), I was ready to start the best part: painting! Out in the sunshine, listening to the chorus of early springtime birds whose songs welcomed the new season, and dodging a bumblebee who seemed enamored with my work, I painted the variety of decorations intuitively.

I'd spend a couple of hours a day on my project, as long as my new hip would allow. It was time spent in flow, in life balance. Colorful butterflies, ladybugs, sunflowers, irises and grasses found their way onto my hardwood canvas. My advice to anyone embarking on creating a garden peace pole: find your focus or theme, and then let your intuition guide you through the flow of painting. 

Peace Pole Top

Protection and Installation in the Peace Pole Garden

To ensure a long life in the elements of North Carolina's four seasons, once I painted my designs using interior/exterior acrylic paint in a variety of opaque, bright colors, I applied a spray polyurethane as a first line of defense. Once the (at least) three spray coats had dried, I brushed on at least three additional coats of spar polyurethane. My husband, Bill, who provided much-needed assistance in the initial prep of the poles (as I mentioned in Part 1), inserted rebar into the bottom of the post. This acted as a stake which could be buried deeply into the ground.

Peace Message  

Balance of Nature

The artpole now sits proudly amongst my hellebores, black-eyed Susans and lavender. It is sited next to our road, welcoming walkers throughout the day. One neighbor called it a jewel in our garden. It makes people smile and it makes my heart happy to see neighbors and strangers stop and take the time to read the messages it holds. As plants grow around it, embracing the pole, it becomes an organic member of my garden. In winter, as snow gathers around and upon it, this garden peace pole becomes a colorful reminder of the spring to come...a reminder of the balance of nature.

Winter Garden


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Earth Law Center Officially Launches Ocean Rights Framework

PhotoForClass by Creative Commons

Photo by Class for Creative Commons

Michelle Bender, Ocean Rights Manager, spoke at a panel and officially launched the Earth Law Framework for Marine Protected Areas at the ocean conference at EARTHx in Dallas TX this year.

What is a Marine Protected Area?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as protective management of natural areas so as to keep them in their natural state. MPAs can be conserved for a number of reasons including economic resources, biodiversity conservation, and species protection. They are created by delineating zones with permitted and non-permitted uses within that zone.

If you have been fishing in central California, diving near a shipwreck in the Florida Keys, camping in Acadia, snorkeling in the Virgin Islands, or hiking along the Olympic Coast, you were probably one of thousands of visitors to an MPA in the United States. 

What does Earth Law mean?

Earth law offers an innovative legal solution to continue to evolve ocean protection. Rather than looking at the ocean as a limitless resource, the Earth Law Ocean Framework considers the ocean as a fellow subject — that is, an entity with a legal right to exist, thrive and evolve.

Viewing the ocean only through the lens of “how is this most useful to humans” ends up not being very good for humans either. With half the ocean’s population disappearing in just the last 45 years,  that doesn’t look good for anyone on the planet given the ocean supplies half of the oxygen on the planet.

What does the ocean rights framework call for?

The ocean rights framework serves as a template for about-to-be created or newly created Marine Protected Areas, and specifically calls for:

The legal recognition of marine protected areas;
The legal recognition of the rights and values associated with marine protected areas;
The appointment of guardians to represent marine protected areas’ interests;
The right for humans to speak on behalf of a marine protected area in legal matters;
The application of legal rights in the existing governance system.

This initiative supports several other river initiatives launched by Earth Law Center which seek rights for: the Southern Resident Orcas in the wider Salish Sea (Puget Sound), the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary in Uruguay, the Patagonian Shelf in Argentina and new projects in Ecuador and Venezuela. 

Practical Applications

Earth Law Center is partnering with OCC to establish legal rights for Uruguay’s Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary. 

Organización para la Conservación de Cetáceos (OCC), a small non-government organization in Uruguay, focuses on marine conservation. In 2013, a delegation of primary and secondary students led by OCC met face-to-face with parliamentarians to designate Uruguay’s territorial sea as a sanctuary for Whales and Dolphins.

Next steps in the initiative include:

Submit a proposal to Parliament to designate legal rights for the Sanctuary through a legal decree
Draft the management plan for the Sanctuary informed by ELC’s model MPA framework and coordinated with the National System of Protected Areas
Plan participatory meetings in each community, including technicians in fisheries and marine management

You can get involved today

Earth Law Center serves to connect and catalyze local partnerships, consisting of communities, indigenous groups, and guardians, to create new laws, which uphold and defend nature's rights against harm.

Learn more about the ocean framework here
Sign up for our monthly newsletter here
Volunteer on the project here
Donate to the cause here

Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature's rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Hawaii Bans Toxic Sunscreen Ingredients

sunscreenThe state of Hawaii has recently passed a bill banning sunscreens containing two toxic ingredients: oxybenzone and octinoxate.

The two chemicals are found in many popular sunscreens sold in the United States, and have been linked to hormone disruption in people and the bleaching of coral reefs and coral death. Oxybenzone specifically causes allergic skin reactions and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is detected in the blood of more than 96 percent of Americans.

If this bill becomes a law, the state’s ban would go into effect in 2021. This would give sunscreen manufacturers time to accelerate the production of sunscreens with safer ingredients and more effective chemicals for sun protection.

“This is a kick in the pants to both the sunscreen industry and the Food and Drug Administration to move to safer and more effective chemical filters for sunscreen,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “The Hawaii ban calls attention to the fact that the sunscreen market is flooded with products that use potentially harmful ingredients and provide poor UVA protection.”

Europeans already have access to safer and more effective sunscreen options compared to products available in the United States. While sunscreens available in the United States do prevent sunburn when used properly, they do not protect the skin from UVA damage as effectively as European products. Many of these European sunscreens use mineral-based, using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to filter harmful radiation.

Current laws in America are underway, but approvals have been delayed for years. Many sunscreen companies have gone to the FDA for approval to use chemicals used in Europeans sunscreens, but the FDA has failed to respond to these requests. This failure to respond to sunscreen company requests promoted Congress to pass the Sunscreen Innovation Act of 2014, which requires the FDA to respond to requests within 300 days. However, these companies must go through rigorous steps to prove that their ingredients and products are effective and safe, which can delay the products reaching shelves in America for years.

“Consumers want safer ingredients that the sunscreen industry and the FDA have not provided in the U.S. Most of the products sold in the U.S. aren’t as good as they should be and don’t offer enough protection against ultraviolet rays.”

Although the American sunscreen market seems to be behind the rest of the world, Hawaii’s move to ban these harmful ingredients has the potential to launch the rest of the country to take the same course of action.


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How to Throw an Eco-Friendly Bridal Shower

 

Bridal showers are a great excuse to gather with all the women in your life—but without careful consideration, they can often turn wasteful. (Think multiple garbage bags just from the wrapping paper alone.) Honor your values by making your celebration as green as possible and hosting a sustainable, natural bridal shower. Here’s how to get started.

Craft a Mindful Registry

Before you (and/or your maid of your honor) begin planning the event, take a moment to think intentionally about your registry. Be mindful about the gifts you ask for and avoid the temptation to register for something you know you won’t use just because you think you should have it on the list.

If you’ve been living with your fiancé for a while, chances are you already have everything you need for your home. Instead, consider asking your guests to make charitable donations in your name. Or, have them contribute to a wedding fund that you can put toward big-ticket items, like your wedding rings.

If you do need to stock up on home goods, ask guests to bring gently used items they no longer need. (After all, a well-seasoned cast-iron pan that belonged to your grandmother is more sentimental and sustainable than a Teflon set from the department store.) Or, register at a locally owned home goods store and have guests shop in person. You’ll promote a small business and avoid excess waste from shipping packages.

Get Creative About Wrapping

Speaking of waste, ask your guests to skip the wrapping paper (especially plastic bows and ribbons) on their gifts. Make sure to include a note on the invitations explaining this intention and provide a list of alternative ideas. For example, guests can craft reusable gift bags from fabric, or wrap gifts in brown paper bags, newspaper or magazine pages. At the very least, urge them to reuse any boxes or gift wrapping that they already have at home.

Pick a Sustainable Location

Host the shower outside during daylight hours to reduce your electricity usage and take advantage of natural lighting. Consider any of the following locales:

Local farms, orchards or vineyards

Public gardens and parks

Beaches or lakeside banks

A scenic backyard (either your own or a willing friend or relative’s)

As a plus, most of these places don’t require a hefty rental fee—and they all come with beautiful natural views. As you’re searching, remember to pick a location that’s central for most people so they don’t have to drive far. Ask your guests (especially any out-of-towners) to carpool together to reduce the number of cars on the road.

Create an Environmentally Friendly Table

As you set the table, real dishes and plates are always best. Bring some from home (or ask a bridesmaid or family member to bring some of theirs) or pick up a few from a thrift shop to create a mix-and-match look. If real plates are out of the question, choose biodegradable bamboo flatware and nontoxic paper plates made from recycled materials. Skip individual bottles and cans and make a pitcher of punch or bring a few bottles of local wine to share. Finish with reusable cloth napkins.

For the food itself, find a local organic farm to provide a meal or appetizers for the shower. You’ll support a local agriculture and know exactly where your food is coming from at the same time. Add your food scraps and biodegradable partyware to a compost pile at the end of the event to cut down on waste.

Choose Decorations that Double as Favors

If the location is gorgeous on its own (think farms with expansive views or lush botanical gardens), you won’t need many decorations. Opt for minimal, natural décor over plastic streamers and balloons.

Find vintage tablecloths at a thrift store or borrow some from your friends or neighbors. (They also make great backdrops for DIY photobooths.) If you want something a little nicer, you can rent table linens from a local company. Pick up candles, photo frames or other decorations from a thrift store as well, or bring some that you already own. 

Potted plants, small succulents and wildflower arrangements can decorate the table and double as party favors. You can also hand out seeds, watering cans and planters for favors, or gifts like handmade soaps or jams from a favorite local business. These are also cute enough to be displayed on their own as decorations. Additionally, you can ask guests to take home any of the décor that they like if you don’t have use for it in your own home. 

Incorporating sustainable elements ensures that your shower is gentle on the earth—which lets you focus on enjoying the company of your guests.

Photo sourced from Shutterstock.com; By Rawpixel.com

Kara Kamenec is a lifestyle writer and former AskMen editor who writes on all things wedding related for Larson Jewelers, where you can find a wide selection of affordable wedding rings for both men and women. Kara loves sharing her expertise on millennial movements, lifestyle fads, dating trends and wedding planning.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.