Our Daily Planet: Visualizing air pollution in your backyard, Toilets are key to saving water and Kroger doubles down on eliminating hunger.
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Monday, September 24h, 2018

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Air Pollution by 2100 Visualized on a Map

Seeing is believing and now, there is a map that can show you the level of particulate matter (PM2.5 or soot) pollution in your air and in the air of communities all around the U.S. if current air pollution levels continue.  The Revelator published an interactive map, created by researchers from the Massachusets Institute of Technology showing the “modeled the impacts of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions on toxic air pollutants.”   

According to The Revelator, what the researchers learned is that climate change makes current levels of air pollution worse because it intensifies the rates of chemical reactions and accumulation of pollutants in the environment.  Some regions of the country will be harder hit than others and experience unhealthy air.  When overlayed with EPA health studies, these predicted declines in air quality have a high cost could cost — the researchers estimate it at “57,000 additional premature deaths and $930 billion in lost economic benefits by the end of the century.”  The models do not include other types of air pollution that are likely to increase, including such things as air quality impacts due to wildfires. 

Why This Matters:  Large parts of the industrial midwest, northeast and deep south will be hit hard.  Perhaps if the hardest hit areas know what to expect (or at least some sense of it) then they can start to make important changes that will improve their prospects.  The costs are significant and worthy of government action.  It is worth noting that the hardest hit areas are expected to be in coal country in the Ohio Valley.  

To Go Interactive:  Explore the map to see how your region will fare, and to see which regions can expect the most dangerous levels of particulate air pollution by 2100.


Resource Central employees Max Hartmann (left) and Neka Sunlin haul the MacFarland family’s vintage toilet out of their Longmont, Colorado home. Photo: Luke Runyon

Toilets Key to Saving Water 

Toilets aren’t the most glamorous item in your home but it turns out that they can be critical to saving water on a large scale. NPR reported that the toilet is the single largest user of water in the home. It uses more than the washing machine, the dishwasher, the shower or the kitchen faucet. About a quarter of all water that enters a home will flow through the toilet according to a 2016 study and each day the average toilet will use about 33 gallons of water.

That’s why organizations like Colorado’s Resource Central that work to help people minimize their water use through incentives that make water-saving fixtures more affordable have been so successful in driving down water consumption. In the last three years, Resource Central has upgraded 2,000 toilets, which calculates out to 500 million gallons of water saved when looking at the average lifespan of the toilet of 30 years. Additionally, regulations to make toilets more water-efficient have been in place since the 1990s and for many new homes being built there aren’t any other options but low-water toilets on the market. Nonetheless, if all toilets were high-efficiency (there are currently 13 million non-efficient toilets in America), indoor water use could drop an additional 35 percent to below 40 gallons per person per day, a 2017 Alliance for Water Efficiency study concluded. 

Why This Matters: Droughts in the West are forcing people to conserve water (whether by law, voluntarily) and some habits require more behavioral changes than others. High-efficiency toilets require zero behavior change, people continue to use them as they normally would while saving gallons per day. In times of elevated drought, people use less water but often go back to their normal consumption habits. The one difference is that when people make the switch to water-saving appliances and fixtures they don’t go back, that’s why incentives to buy these items are so important to overall water-saving goals. Another method that works? When Michael Phelps to turn off the tap

 Climate Change

More Cities Turn to Trees to Beat the Heat 

As climate change drives up average temperatures, summer heat in cities is not only becoming dangerous but it’s also not dissipating at night because concrete and asphalt absorb and then radiate it back. This not only forces office buildings to spend more on their energy bills to keep cool but for citizens who do not have access to air conditioning, this puts immense stress on their bodies when there’s no reprieve from the heat. Because of this, more American cities like Louisville, KY are incorporating trees are part of their plan to cool off and adapt to climate change. Louisville may be known for the Kentucky Derby but it’s quickly gaining a reputation for being one of the hottest cities in America and is ranked as the 4th hottest urban area in the country. But as Inside Climate News reported, Louisville launched a limited program to subsidize cooler, reflective roofs, and it has been planting trees. The new tree numbers since 2011 are approaching 100,000, and saplings sporting irrigation bags around their skinny trunks offer hope of shady sidewalks in years to come.

Despite this some experts believe that there should be even more focus placed on increasing canopy cover: “Trees are not viewed as a necessity, we could put utility lines underground, but we cannot live without trees” observed William Fountain, a University of Kentucky professor of arboriculture who argues trees are every bit as important to a city as water, sewer and transportation systems. For hot cities like LA, that have been losing tree cover, making trees part of a resiliency plant is essential in combating hot days. 

Why This Matters: Rising temperatures are becoming a public health threat and extreme heat claims more lives than any other type of natural disaster. Trees are a relatively easy way to help alleviate this heat and as you can see in the graphic above, they provide a range of benefits to the environment where they are planted. A new USDA study reveals that that tree cover in urban/community areas of the United States is on the decline at a rate of about 175,000 acres per year, which corresponds to approximately 36 million trees per year. Additionally, the estimated loss of benefits from trees in urban areas is conservatively valued at $96 million per year–all the most reason to start planting more trees! 


Dr. Samuel Wasser, the “Guru of Doo-Doo” uses genetic analysis to help tackle elephant poaching. 
Tracking Poachers Through Elephant Tusk DNA

Poachers are killing 40,000 elephants a year and with a global elephant population of just 400,000 it’s easy to see why wiping out poaching is critical if we don’t want these amazing animals to go extinct. Catching poachers is really difficult as they operate in such vast areas and once contraband like elephant tusks hit ports, they’re easily smuggled out when hidden amongst other goods. Governments and national parks have used methods such as dogs, militarizing rangers, analyzing elephant poop, drones, etc., to help fight poaching but new research by Dr. Samuel Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington shows that using a genetic analysis of confiscated tusks can help strengthen anti-poaching efforts. 

Through the collection of elephant dung, Dr. Wasser was able to create a detailed DNA reference map of African elephants. And as the New York Times reported, he can now link that map with genetic analysis of confiscated tusks to determine where the animal was living when it was killed. This can help law enforcement target areas most susceptible to poaching and narrow in on ivory cartel operations. So far this genetic sleuthing has helped bolster the legal case against 3 major ivory cartels. 

Why This Matters: The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be between 10-20 billion dollars and the work of Dr. Wasser helps to prevent the ivory from actually getting into transit and making money for poachers. Pinpointing trafficking hotspots helps better understand the cartels profiting off of slain elephants–like what ports they use and how they get elephant tusks to those ports. Knowing who the big kingpins of the ivory trade are can help dismantle their illicit networks and help better protect elephants. Bringing down the cartels will, in turn, bring down the poachers as the cartels are who fund the poachers on the ground. 



Kroger’s Zero Hunger Zero Waste Initiative Enters Year Two

According to the United Nations, roughly a third of all food grown for consumption by people is wasted — that is 1.2B tons lost or thrown away.  In the United States, the percentage of food waste is even higher — Kroger estimates it a 40%.  So last year, the grocery chain decided to take action and teamed up with non-profits the World Wildlife Fund and Feeding America and announced the grocery version of a “moonshot – to end hunger in our communities and eliminate waste across our company by 2025 through Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social impact plan.” 

Working with WWF, Kroger also established metrics and a baseline for food waste across our retail store operations, using the World Resources Institute’s Food Loss & Waste Standard. In addition, Kroger worked to raise the awareness of their customers around the issues of hunger and waste and how customers can help. And in August, Kroger announced that is is going to phase out single-use plastic grocery bags by 2025 and began work to transition to more sustainable options.  And according to Time Magazine, now restaurants are trying to cut their waste — Chefs like Jehangir Mehta is offering sustainable meals at his Graffiti Earth restaurant in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood, and Paul Svensson is trying to change the way customers think about food using a plant-based menu at his award-winning restaurants in Stockholm, Sweden.  

Why This Matters:  Because it has an immediate impact — in this year alone, Kroger directed 325 million meals to families in need in communities across the U.S., with food and funds combined. And working to reduce food waste is something large institutions and individuals and families can all do! 

To Go Deeper: Check out Kroger’s 2018 Sustainability Report.  And also check out this Foodable Network video about Graffiti Earth’s philosophy on sustainability.  
Zero Hunger Zero Waste from Kroger, WWF and Feeding America


One Cool Thing: Have a Beer, Plant Five Oysters

Blue Point Brewing Company, based on Long Island, NY has donated $20,000 to the non-profit to help the Billion Oyster Project to plant and maintain new oyster beds in New York Harbor, in Jamaica Bay, and in the Upper Bay, which feed into the Hudson and East Rivers.  Oyster beds are great for protection from storm surge (helping to blunt the impacts of hurricanes like Sandy) and they filter out pollution from the water as well.  To raise awareness about the importance of oysters, the company also launched on September 3 a new beer called Good Reef Ale.  Good Reef is a dry-hopped Belgian Ale with a light body and clean citrus character. The beer will be sold at select Whole Foods markets in NY, NJ and CT, and is on draft at locations throughout New York City and Long Island. Sounds like it would go great with oysters!

Why This Matters:  Oysters are good tasting and great for the environment too.  Five oysters — the number donated with each Good Reef Ale sold — can filter up to 250 gallons of water A DAY!  
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