• The Great Green Wall of Africa

    Though a border wall with Mexico is currently a matter of serious discussion in the United States, the aim of which is to prevent the physical movement of people (with few other apparent “benefits”), some walls can actually bring together and preserve communities, rather than divide them.

    In only five years, the UN says, around 60 million Africans may be displaced as their land ceases to be arable, a potential humanitarian disaster the scale of which would be unprecedented. This would be devastating to a huge portion of the African continent not only ecologically and economically but socially as well.

    That’s where Africa’s ingenious Great Green Wall comes in.

    Experts at the United Nations say without action, desertification may claim two-thirds of Africa’s farmlands in under a decade. The Great Green Wall, however, was conceived as a wide-reaching strategy to halt Northern Africa’s rapidly advancing Sahara Desert.

    The Great Green Wall, once complete, will stretch an incredible 4,400 miles from Senegal in West Africa to the East African nation of Djibouti. Instead of bricks and mortar, the wall will be made of trees and other vegetation, including plants that can be eaten or used to create medicine.

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  • You are what you eat

    Biologists at Indiana University have significantly advanced understanding of the genetic pathways that control the appearance of different physical traits in the same species depending on nutritional conditions experienced during development.

    In many animals, nutrition -- not genetic differences -- controls the appearance of certain physical traits. Ants and bees, for example, grow into workers or queens based upon the food eaten as larvae.

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  • Middle East drought in historical perspective

    A recent study released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) concludes that the current drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant  – which includes Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey – is the region’s worst dry spell since 1100 C.E.

    NASA scientists reconstructed our regional drought history by studying records of tree rings, from dead and live specimens, across several Mediterranean countries to determine patterns of dry and wet years over a 900-year time span. Tree rings are good indicators of precipitation since dry years cause thin rings while thick rings show when water was plentiful. They concluded that the years between 1998 and 2012 were drier than any other period, and that the drought was likely caused by humans.

    Ben Cook, lead author and climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, said the range of regional weather events has varied widely over the last millennium, but the past twenty years stand out as extreme, falling outside the range of natural variability.

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  • Long-term exposure to particulate air pollutants associated with numerous cancers

    The study between the University of Birmingham and University of Hong Kong, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, adds to growing concern around the health risks of prolonged exposure to ambient fine particulate matter.

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  • Get moving for heart health

    Cardiologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that sedentary behavior is associated with increased amounts of calcium deposits in heart arteries, which in turn is associated with a higher risk of heart attack.

    Researchers at UT Southwestern have previously shown that excessive sitting is associated with reduced cardiorespiratory fitness and a higher risk of heart disease. The latest research – part of UT Southwestern’s Dallas Heart Study – points to a likely mechanism by which sitting leads to heart disease.

    “This is one of the first studies to show that sitting time is associated with early markers of atherosclerosis buildup in the heart,” said senior author Dr. Amit Khera, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the Preventive Cardiology Program. “Each additional hour of daily sedentary time is associated with a 12 percent higher likelihood of coronary artery calcification.”

     

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  • The impacts of air pollution on the developing fetus

    Even small amounts of air pollution appear to raise the risk of a condition in pregnant women linked to premature births and lifelong neurological and respiratory disorders in their children, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.

    Fine particles from car exhaust, power plants and other industrial sources are breathed into the lungs, but the scientists have now found evidence of the effects of that pollution in the pregnant women's placentas, the organ that connects her to her fetus and provides blood, oxygen and nutrition. They found that the greater the maternal exposure to air pollution, the more likely the pregnant women suffered from a condition called intrauterine inflammation, which can increase the risk of a number of health problems for her child from the fetal stage well into childhood.

     

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  • Chernobyl, three decades on

    It was 30 years ago that a meltdown at the V. I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station in the former Soviet Union released radioactive contaminants into the surroundings in northern Ukraine. Airborne contamination from what is now generally termed the Chernobyl disaster spread well beyond the immediate environs of the power plant, and a roughly 1000-square-mile region in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia remains cordoned off, an exclusion zone where human habitation is forbidden.

    The radiation spill was a disaster for the environment and its biological inhabitants, but it also created a unique radio-ecological laboratory.

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  • Do you live in one of America's worst cities for air pollution?

    The American Lung Association has released its annual “State of the Air” report and its findings are troubling. Most Americans live in counties with air pollution so bad that it is a severe risk to their health. According to the report, that means 166 million people are at risk of an early death and significant health problems including asthma, developmental damage and cancer.

    Without a doubt the most concerning discovery made by the American Lung Association was that short-term particle pollution had increased sharply since last year’s report: “Short-term spikes” of particle pollution hit record levels in seven of the 25 most polluted U.S. cities in this period.

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  • Educating Consumers About Buying Sustainably

    Sustainability is a word tossed around much these days. But do consumers really care about buying sustainably? The answer is yes. More and more consumers are interested in sustainability, as surveys show.  A 2011 consumer survey by Nielsen found that 66 percent of socially-conscious consumers cited environmental sustainability as the most important issue from a list of 18 issues.

    So, how do you increase awareness of buying sustainably among consumers? The key is getting information to them. A study by Michigan State University researchers, published in 2014 in the Business and Economics Journal, looked at consumer awareness of fair trade information. The researchers found that informed consumers “are better positioned to make sound decisions and take the appropriate actions to address sustainability issues.” Providing access to “complete and accurate sources of information allows consumers to draw the connection between their consumption behaviors and social, and environmental sustainability,” the researchers concluded.

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  • Fast food may expose consumers to phthalates

    People who reported consuming more fast food in a national survey were exposed to higher levels of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates, according to a study published today by researchers at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University. The study, one of the first to look at fast-food consumption and exposure to these chemicals, appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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