Trees are Great for Cities

Cleaning the air and keeping areas cool are what trees do best. A new study has looked into how best to use trees from a purely utilitarian standpoint. Essentially they drilled down to what trees do best and where they can thrive. The researchers cataloged the best places to plant trees based on factors like removing particulate matter from the air and where they can have the greatest impact on local temperatures. As a result their research outlines the most efficient use of money when deciding where to plant more trees.

As always, the best time to plant a tree is today.

There is one catch, though: The tree-planting campaign has to be well-targeted. And that gets a bit complex.

Trees only improve air quality in their immediate vicinity, about 100 feet or so. That means cities need to figure out which neighborhoods benefit most from new trees (typically the densest areas, but also areas around hospitals and schools). They also have to plant species that are most effective at trapping pollution (typically those with large leaves).

Officials also need to account for things like wind patterns and tree spacing and figure out whether they’ll be able to maintain their trees. Plus, if water is scarce, they’ll want to consider drought-tolerant varieties. And they may want to steer clear of trees that increase pollen and allergies.

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Infrastructure That Cleans the Air

Barcelona is going to build a road bridge which may be the cleanest bridge yet. Of course it’ll have pedestrian walks and bike paths, however, what makes the bridge really noteworthy is that it will clean the air.

Concrete is notoriously energy-intensive to create so any carbon offset is beneficial. The Barcelona bridge will make use of photocatalytic concrete.

But the real prize of this thing is its basic building material, photocatalytic concrete. The principal of photocatylitics is that ultraviolet light naturally breaks down dirt, both natural and synthetic. It’s that old adage about sunlight being the best disinfectant. Photocatalytic concrete is used with titanium dioxide, which helps accelerate the natural UV-breakdown process, turning the pollution into carbon dioxide, and oxygen and substances that actually belong in the atmosphere.

The actual process has to do with semiconductors and electrons and other things that you may or may not care to read about. (At any rate, the Concrete Society of the United Kingdom does a better job of explaining it.)

An air-cleaning bridge makes for a neat news story and a sci-fi-ish novelty that environmentalists can blog about. But the important point is that Barcelona has taken a piece of infrastructure that exists solely to accommodate car culture, and re-invented it to partially offset the effects of car pollution.

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Under the Dome: A Documentary on China’s Pollution

The Chinese documentary Under the Dome (I can’t find english subtitles, sorry) has taken China by storm. The documentary was released on last week and is already changing the conversation about pollution in the country. This could mark a massive change in how China enforces their pollution laws and improves how they treat nature.

Chai Jing’s documentary was released on 28 February, less than a week before China’s annual parliamentary session begins. China’s central government is expected to pass an ambitious new law that hopes to impose tough new regulations on China’s coal-burning polluters.
But in China, passing a law is one thing. Enforcing it is another.
Beijing could certainly use public pressure in its bid to carry out the new rules. Laws from the central government are commonly ignored by lower level officials, particularly when they might affect economic growth.
China named its new Environment Minister, Chen Jining, one day before the documentary was released. In his first press conference the day after his appointment, he noted he had already watched the documentary and had phoned Chai Jing to thank her for contribution.

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China’s Changing Waste Management

China’s rate of economic development has caused massive change in the country and that includes the impact on waste management. Waste from consumer goods, industry, and other “good” things for the economy causes huge problems around the world. China is now at a turning point that can see interesting solutions to problems the developed world has had an easier time dealing with.

The sheer amount of pollution in China is causing people in the city to protest government policies. Environmental consciousness is growing in China.

Chinese waste management stands at a watershed moment. Rising environmental consciousness among the educated, urban middle class—who insist on clean air, clean water, and a clean landscape—may compel the Chinese government to act.

One foreign observer I spoke to noted that contemporary Chinese protests are “always environmental.” Recent events seem to support his point. Grist has reported on artist-activists who make pollution the central feature of their work. And in May, protests exploded after locals caught wind of imminent groundbreaking on a new garbage incinerator in Hangzhou, south of Shanghai. It is the latest example of what has become widespread opposition to burning waste.

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Time for an Ocean Cleanup

We recent looked at Illinois banning microbeads, which will cut back on plastic pollution in large bodies of water. But what about the plastics that are already in the oceans? That’s where Ocean Cleanup comes in.

Right now, the young organization is raising $2 million through crowd funding to do a large-scale cleanup of plastic trash floating in the ocean. They have successfully completed a pilot study and are about to start a larger feasibility study before moving on to the final goal. Now is your chance to help contribute to saving the oceans!

  • At least one million seabirds, and one-hundred thousand marine mammals die each year due to plastic pollution (Laist, 1997)
  • Lantern fish in the North Pacific Gyre eat up to 24,000 tons plastics per year (Davidson & Asch, 2011)
  • The survival of many species, including the Hawaiian Monk Seal and Loggerhead Turtle, could be jeopardized by plastic debris (Derraik, 2002)
  • Plastic pollution is a carrier of invasive species, threatening native ecosystems (Barnes, 2005)
  • The Ocean Cleanup

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