Day: August 6, 2020

How old tires could make bike lanes way safer

Read the full story at Fast Company.

A used tire, a jigsaw, a drill, and a few bolts. Those are the basic components of a simple new barrier to separate car traffic from bike lanes.

The design is the winner of the Build a Better Barrier Challenge, a design competition to improve the flimsy and costly bike lane barriers used in many cities. The skinny plastic poles commonly used to create a barrier between car and bike lanes often end up like roadkill, flat on the ground after being driven over—and that’s if they exist in the first place. Many cities barely have barriers between car and bike lanes, and some have no bike lanes at all. The design competition, sponsored by the shared scooter and e-bike company Spin, was intended to fill this gap by creating a cheaper and more durable version that cities can easily put in place. With the expansion of temporary road closures and the surge in cycling during COVID-19, this new barrier could be the quick solution many cities need.

Life and Death in Our Hot Future Will Be Shaped by Today’s Income Inequality

Read the full story at Bloomberg Green.

It’s one of the scariest questions facing billions of humans on a hotter planet: How many of us will die from extreme heat in the decades ahead?

Your future risk of dying from heat will be determined more than anything else by where you live and the local consequences of today’s economic inequality. That’s the conclusion of a major paper released today by the Climate Impact Lab, a research consortium that spent years mapping the relationship between temperature, income, and mortality. People in poor regions who benefit less from investment in air conditioning, protective infrastructure, and elder care will die from extreme heat at much higher rates, even compared to wealthier peers who experience similar hot temperatures.

Associated working paper: Carleton, T.A. et al (2020). Valuing the Global Mortality Consequences of Climate Change Accounting for Adaptation Costs and Benefits (NBER Working Paper No. 27599). Cambridge MA : National Bureau of Economic Research. https://www.nber.org/papers/w27599

Aboard the Diamond Princess, a Case Study in Aerosol Transmission

Read the full story in the New York Times.

A computer model of the cruise-ship outbreak found that the virus spread most readily in microscopic droplets light enough to linger in the air.

The second pandemic: Pollution

Read the full story in Salon.

The response to the pandemic has shown humans can mobilize to fight comparable public health crises.

Being Green and Social Responsibility: Basic Concepts and Case Studies in Business Excellence

Smith, A. D. (2020). “Being Green and Social Responsibility: Basic Concepts and Case Studies in Business Excellence.” International Journal of Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Corporate Social Responsibility (IJSECSR), 5(2), 34-54. doi:10.4018/IJSECSR.2020070103

Abstract: Through a qualitative business case approach, three major manufacturing firms in Pittsburgh, PA were reviewed for their eco-friendly sustainability strategic initiatives and products/services. Undoubtedly, use of green best practices are value adding steps for a company may be initially difficult to justify spending the time and resources developing such a process. This is especially true when other core business needs are present, such as driving revenue, product development, and meeting governmental or consumer expectations. However, green and sustainability initiatives may not be currently dictated needs, but many companies feel strongly that charting such a course would be to their stakeholders’ mutual advantage. As resources are being consumed more rapidly, it is logical to enact steps to ensure the sustainability of such scare resources. The added benefit of lower input needs greatly improves the companies’ stances in their market while also adding to the firms’ overall profitability.

Integrating Sustainability into Corporate Strategy: A Case Study of the Textile and Clothing Industry

Peters, J.; Simaens, A. (2020). “Integrating Sustainability into Corporate Strategy: A Case Study of the Textile and Clothing Industry.” Sustainability 12, 6125. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12156125 [Open access].

Abstract: This paper aims to explore a set of institutional, organizational, and individual drivers of and barriers to the integration of sustainability into the corporate strategy of a European textile and clothing (T&C) company. The methodology is based on a case study of the exemplar VAUDE, a family-owned sustainable outdoor outfitter company. The results are in accordance with institutional theory and stakeholder theory as a theoretical framework explaining why companies deal with sustainability. The determined drivers depend on coherence at all levels of analysis, i.e., institutional, organizational, and individual. The barriers found are of an institutional and organizational nature only. The findings present significant practical implications for other T&C companies that seek to integrate sustainability into their corporate strategy and for the T&C industry to create a sustainability-friendly environment to drive more companies to become sustainable. It further supports T&C companies in identifying potential barriers, determining how to overcome them, and successfully integrating sustainability into their corporate strategy. To conclude, the results suggest that it only works if sustainability is strongly integrated into the corporate strategy and deeply anchored in all departments and daily tasks of a T&C company. 

Wild bees add about $1.5 billion to yields for just six U.S. crops

Read the full story in Science News.

U.S. cherries, watermelons and some other summertime favorites may depend on wild bees more than previously thought.

Many farms in the United States use managed honeybees to pollinate crops and increase yields, sometimes trucking beehives from farm to farm. Now an analysis of seven crops across North America shows that wild bees can play a role in crop pollination too, even on conventional farms abuzz with managed honeybees. Wild volunteers add at least $1.5 billion in total to yields for six of the crops, a new study estimates.

Associated journal article: Reilly J. R. et al (2020). “Crop production in the USA is frequently limited by a lack of pollinators.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Chemistry B. 287, 20200922. http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.0922

Groups urge protection from ‘environmental racism’ in hazardous waste placement

Read the full story in the Detroit News.

Environmental groups are calling on state regulators to adopt policies to put an end to Michigan’s “long history of discrimination” over the placement of hazardous waste sites in poor communities of color.

The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, in partnership with a Detroit law firm, has filed a civil rights complaint with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, on behalf of activist groups and residents in Detroit and Hamtramck, urging the department to “protect us from environmental racism,” said Michelle Martinez, director of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition.

Micro-naps for plants: Flicking the lights on and off can save energy without hurting indoor agriculture harvests

Pulses of light followed by extended dark periods might help make indoor agricultural production more sustainable. DutchScenery/Shutterstock.com

by Kevin M. Folta (University of Florida)

A nighttime arrival at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport flies you over the bright pink glow of vegetable production greenhouses. Growing crops under artificial light is gaining momentum, particularly in regions where produce prices can be high during seasons when sunlight is sparse.

The Netherlands is just one country that has rapidly adopted controlled-environment agriculture, where high-value specialty crops like herbs, fancy lettuces and tomatoes are produced in year-round illuminated greenhouses. Advocates suggest these completely enclosed buildings – or plant factories – could be a way to repurpose urban space, decrease food miles and provide local produce to city dwellers.

One of the central problems of this process is the high monetary cost of providing artificial light, usually via a combination of red and blue light-emitting diodes. Energy costs sometimes exceed 25% of the operational outlay. How can growers, particularly in the developing world, compete when the sun is free? Higher energy use also translates to more carbon emissions, rather than the decreased carbon footprint sustainably farmed plants can provide.

I’ve studied how light affects plant growth and development for over 30 years. I recently found myself wondering: Rather than growing plants under a repeating cycle of one day of light and one night of darkness, what if the same daylight was split into pulses lasting only hours, minutes or seconds?

Indoor plants need plenty of artificial light. josefkubes/Shutterstock.com

Short bursts of light and dark

So my colleagues and I designed an experiment. We’d apply the normal amount of light in total, just break it up over different chunks of time.

Of course plants depend on light for photosynthesis, the process that in nature uses the sun’s energy to merge carbon dioxide and water into sugars that fuel plant metabolism. Light also directs growth and development through its signals about day and night, and monkeying with that information stream might have disastrous results.

That’s because breaking something good into smaller bits sometimes creates new problems. Imagine how happy you’d be to receive a US$100 bill – but not as thrilled with the equivalent 10,000 pennies. We suspected a plant’s internal clock wouldn’t accept the same luminous currency when broken into smaller denominations.

And that’s exactly what we demonstrated in our experiments. Kale, turnip or beet seedlings exposed to cycles of 12 hours of light, 12 hours dark for four days grew normally, accumulating pigments and growing larger. When we decreased the frequency of light-dark cycles to 6 hours, 3 hours, 1 hour or 30 minutes, the plants revolted. We delivered the same amount of light, just applied in different-sized chunks, and the seedlings did not appreciate the treatment.

The same amount of light applied in shorter intervals over the day caused plants to grow more like they were in darkness. We suspect the light pulses conflicted with a plant’s internal clock, and the seedlings had no idea what time of day it was. Stems stretched taller in an attempt to find more light, and processes like pigment production were put on hold.

But when we applied light in much, much shorter bursts, something remarkable happened. Plants grown under five-second on/off cycles appeared to be almost identical to those grown under the normal light/dark period. It’s almost like the internal clock can’t get started properly when sunrise comes every five seconds, so the plants don’t seem to mind a day that is a few seconds long.

Just as we prepared to publish, undergraduate collaborator Paul Kusuma found that our discovery was not so novel. We soon realized we’d actually rediscovered something already known for 88 years. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw this same phenomenon in 1931 when they grew plants under light pulses of various durations. Their work in mature plants matches what we observed in seedlings with remarkable similarity.

A 1931 study by Garner and Allard tracked the growth of Yellow Cosmos flowers under light pulses of various durations. J. Agri. Res. 42: National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture., CC BY-ND

Not only was all of this a retread of an old idea, but pulses of light do not save any energy. Five seconds on and off uses the same amount of energy as the lights being on for 12 hours; the lights are still on for half the day.

But what would happen if we extended the dark period? Five seconds on. Six seconds off. Or 10 seconds off. Or 20 seconds off. Maybe 80 seconds off? They didn’t try that in 1931.

Building in extra downtime

It turns out that the plants don’t mind a little downtime. After applying light for five seconds to activate photosynthesis and biological processes like pigment accumulation, we turned the light off for 10, or sometimes 20 seconds. Under these extended dark periods, the seedlings grew just as well as they had when the light and dark periods were equal. If this could be done on the scale of an indoor farm, it might translate to a significant energy savings, at least 30% and maybe more.

Recent yet-to-be published work in our lab has shown that the same concept works in leaf lettuces; they also don’t mind an extended dark time between pulses. In some cases, the lettuces are green instead of purple and have larger leaves. That means a grower can produce a diversity of products, and with higher marketable product weight, by turning the lights off.

One variety of lettuce grew purple when given a 10-second dark period. They look similar to those grown with a five-second dark period, yet use 33% less energy. Extending the dark period to 20 seconds yielded green plants with more biomass. J. Feng, K. Folta

Learning that plants can be grown under bursts of light rather than continuous illumination provides a way to potentially trim the expensive energy budget of indoor agriculture. More fresh vegetables could be grown with less energy, making the process more sustainable. My colleagues and I think this innovation could ultimately help drive new business and feed more people – and do so with less environmental impact.


This article was updated with a corrected legend on the photograph of the plants grown in 1931.

Kevin M. Folta, Professor of Horticultural Sciences and Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

PFAS should be managed as a single class of chemicals, experts say

Read the full story in Environmental Factor.

Treating the thousands of potentially toxic chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as a single class could reduce health risks and contamination, and improve clean-up efforts, according to a June 30 commentary by an international group of experts.

The article was published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters. It was selected as an American Chemical Society Editors’ Choice publication, making it freely available to the public. Co-authors include NIEHS Scientist Emeritus Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and Mark Miller, Ph.D., chief of staff in the institute’s Office of the Director. Carol Kwiatkowski, Ph.D., from North Carolina State University, is the lead author.

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