Binhai Eco City aims to be a case study for green urban planning
The cities of the future are envisioned as green oases powered by clean, renewable energy. A joint Chinese-Singaporean project hopes to provide a case study for just such cities. Binhai Eco City is designed to be an example of how cities can be completely green developments. Binhai is located on the outskirts of Tianjin in north China and will be connected to another planned eco-friendly development in Beijing by a high-speed rail connection. Beijing Bohai Innovation City covers a planned 17.6 sq km (6.8 sq mi) and aims to set a new standard for environmentally-conscious urban planning. The Binhai Eco City Master Plan covers a much smaller 0.2 sq km (0.07 sq mi) but like the Beijing project has received international recognition, having been shortlisted for the World Architecture Festival 2014. The Eco City development has planned green belt land to the north of the site and aims to push the green land towards the center of the site. Founder of project architects Holm Architecture Office (HAO) Jens Holm explains that the plan mimics an outstretched hand, mixing green and functional areas. (via Binhai Eco City aims to be a case study for green urban planning)

Eating Healthy on a Budget
A common concern about eating a plant-based diet is that it is expensive. I beg to differ. There are ways to purchase food on any type of meal plan that range widely from simple to extravagant, regardless of whether there are animal foods in the mix or not. In fact, you will likely save thousands of dollars (or more) in healthcare expenses by eating a wholesome plant-centered diet and, further, you can easily live frugally (and still very deliciously) on plants.

Here are 7 ways to save money on a plant-based diet:

  1. Buy foods that have a longer shelf life in bulk. Shop warehouses for large packages of whole grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa), dried or canned beans and lentils, dried spices and herbs, frozen veggies and fruits, plant milks, tea, coffee, jarred or canned goods (tomatoes, tomato sauce, marinara sauce, olives), dried fruits, sun-dried tomatoes, dehydrated mushrooms, whole grain pasta, nuts, and seeds. Or buy from the bulk section at your local health food store.
  2. Shop local farmer’s markets for fresh, local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Try to show up towards the end of the day, when farmer’s will typically discount their remaining items. You can opt to buy from farms that may not yet be certified organic (it takes years and costs money to be certified), but do not spray their crops with pesticides. This is the next best thing to organic.
  3. Minimize or avoid processed and convenience foods at the grocery store. Packaged food costs more because of the convenience factor, the marketing and production costs, etc. You are better off health-wise and wallet-wise to eat the most whole form of foods, found as close to nature as possible.
  4. Cook more often. Simple skills - such as cooking grains and legumes, whipping up soups and stews, blending smoothies, dressings, and sauces - are easy to learn and will save you tons of money. These are the healthiest meals to create, keep in your fridge and freezer, and enjoy as regular staples. Batch cook foods so you can freeze some, and have plenty left for your week’s worth of dishes.
  5. Prepare. Decide what you will make for the week ahead, check your kitchen to see which ingredients need to be purchased, and shop with grocery lists to avoid impulse purchases, and avoid overspending.
  6. Never shop hungry. This is a recipe for purchasing less healthful, more expensive, and unnecessary items, racking up your bill.
  7. Try growing your own food. Planting a garden - if you can - is a great way to save money on fruits, vegetables, and fresh herbs. There are multiple ways to do this in small spaces, indoors, using hydroponics, aquaponics, and small or large pots outdoors if you are limited in space or land.
*Graphic by Vegan Sidekick

Bureau of Labor Statistics Average Retail Food & Energy Prices: http://1.usa.gov/XjzggI
Eating Healthy on a Budget on PerezHilton.com:http://bit.ly/1wsRStE
My interview with John McDougall MD about eating well on a budget on Veria's What Would Julieanna Do?:http://bit.ly/1s1ZPoM
Learn how to cook plant-based online from home at the Rouxbe Plant-Based Professional Certification Course: http://bit.ly/1a8FEg9
Eating On a Budget on Fox 13 Seattle:http://bit.ly/1D7iJxf
Richard A Oppenlander, DDS, PLC's The Cost of Eating Animals: http://bit.ly/1nlQepc
My Veria Do’s and Don’ts for Food Shopping:http://bit.ly/1ojZ3LI
Plant-Based On A Budget: http://bit.ly/1s481in
Eco-Vegan Gal's video series on eating healthy, organic, and vegan on a budget: http://bit.ly/1qzVaJn
How Important Is It To Buy Organic:http://bit.ly/1wtH8v8
Ellen Jaffe Jones-Author & Personal Trainer's Eat Vegan on $4.00 a Day: http://amzn.to/1qBcvBG
Robin Robertson's Vegan on the Cheap:http://amzn.to/1q4Mm81
Original article: http://bit.ly/X3aIIg

via Plant-Based Dietitian


Tracking when hydraulic fracturing fails

The last few yeas have been, to a large extent, the “Wild West” for the deployment of horizontally-drilled wells for hydraulic fracturing. Lots of exploring, not a lot of control on it.

The techniques of pumping fluids and sand into the ground to open up cracks that allow natural gas flow were first deployed over 10 years ago in Texas, using mostly vertically-drilled wells. But over the past ~5 years, the Marcellus Shale, which sits at depths of over a kilometer beneath western and central Pennsylvania, has become a major target for wells that turn horizontal and cover large areas underground from a single drilling location.

As we described in our last post (https://www.facebook.com/TheEarthStory/posts/751065708287809), there are probably ways to do this process well, and if it is done properly it does have the potential to produce significant environmental gains. However, much of the drilling efforts in this area have been done with limited regulation and limited review, setting up the opposite scenario.

The most blatant issues have been reports of “exploding drinking water”. Video evidence has established that in some people’s homes, after the drilling and hydraulic fracturing, there is so much gas in the groundwater people are pumping into their homes that the water will literally ignite and explode. In addition, others have reported contamination of drinking water with heavy metals, organic compounds, and other pollutants that people don’t want to drink. 

The biggest problem with these reports has been that it has been really hard to prove that the pollution is related to the drilling efforts. The gas could be leaking from any number of geologic formations, even those unrelated to the drilling. If no one tests the water before the drilling, it is difficult to prove that the gas wasn’t there beforehand.

The target unit in Pennsylvania, the Marcellus Shale, is over a kilometer deep in the ground, while the drinking water supplies are only 100 meters or less. It’s certainly conceivable that there could be other sources of this gas, and in fact it would be surprising if pollution could leak up from that deep. The chemicals pumped down there really should stay down there, and that possibility is one big reason why this technology has some potential as a cleaner energy source.

New research led by scientists from Duke University has, in my view, finally solved this conundrum and explained the connection between the drilling and gas contamination in people’s drinking water. To track the exact sources, they realized they needed to fingerprint the gas.

To create this fingerprint, they did a more detailed chemical analysis of gas compositions than has been done previously. The gas itself is made of carbon and hydrogen, so they first analyzed isotopic compositions of carbon and hydrogen but that isn’t enough for a fingerprint. Next, they analyzed isotopic compositions of helium, argon, and neon. These noble gases are minor components in the natural gas but they can be measured precisely, creating a true gas fingerprint.

They analyzed over 100 drinking water wells from the area of the Marcellus shale hydraulic fracturing and 20 more from the Barnett shale area in Texas. From these, they found 8 sources of contamination (7 in PA) that had affected nearby drinking water wells. In each case, the noble gas fingerprints specifically identified nearby gas extraction wells – not the unit at depth that had been hydraulically fractured.

One of the ongoing arguments in favor of continuing this gas extraction without regulation is that it hadn’t been firmly established that gas drilling had ever contaminated a water source. This study establishes that 8 times over and is virtually undeniable. These sources of gas are coming from the units being used for gas production; the gas is contaminating drinking water.

However, my last article argued that it might be possible to make this process surprisingly clean, and one part of this study backs that claim up. There is gas entering people’s drinking water from these wells, but that gas is not migrating upwards directly from the unit at depth. The 1000 meter wall of rock between the drinking water and the production unit actually has in all cases held.

Every single one of the contamination centers is directly associated with a drill hole. There is 1000 meters of rock between the surface and the unit at depth, but to get the gas out, there is a 1000-meter hole being drilled. In each case found here, the gas leak is directly associated with a leak from the drilled hole.

The holes have to be packed with several layers of production casing and cement to keep them from leaking. The scientists tracked nearly every one of these leaks to a failure of the casing or the cement. 

This study, therefore, shows first that the people who are saying gas extraction is hurting their groundwater wells are telling the truth; the gas is actually coming from the drilling. On the other hand, the gas extraction companies have a point too; there is no migration of gas from the unit at depth. 

In other words, there may be a way to make this type of drilling work, but it’s all about how well the drilling is done. For unconventional natural gas to be a safe, clean fuel, it needs to work properly every single time and this study proves that simply isn’t happening. One failure can contaminate the drinking water for a lot of people and pump a lot of gas into the air; just this study found several. If you project the 8 leaks in 120 wells found by this study, you would suggest >5% of wells leak within their first few years, and some estimates place those numbers as high as 15%. Right now, leaks are the norm, not the exception, and this cannot be the case.

I don’t know if the other study is right and this type of gas extraction can be done cleanly, but I do know it is not happening in the United States that way today and that needs to change.


Original study:
Image credit: 

Image credits:

TransCanada may have to take a break from trying to convince Canadians and Americans its Keystone XL and Energy East pipelines are safe in order to deal with some pipeline spills.

More than 500 residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan, were forced to leave their homes in the early hours of Tuesday morning for 10 to 12 hours after authorities discovered a leak on a TransCanada gas pipeline in the area, WSBT TV reports.

Police cordoned off a one-square-mile area rural area east of the town for 10 to 12 hours before allowing residents to return home.

There was no word on how much gas may have spilled, or any damage caused.

By the Council of Canadians’ count, this is the third pipeline leak TransCanada has experienced in the past nine months.

TransCanada suffered a gas pipeline explosion in Otterburne, Man., in January, andanother gas pipeline ruptured in Rocky Mountain House, Alta., in February.

“TransCanada is seeking permission to convert parts of the same pipeline that failed in Otterburne to carry diluted bitumen as part of their Energy East pipeline project from Alberta to New Brunswick,” the Council of Canadians, which is known for opposing energy industry projects, said on its blog Tuesday.

TransCanada has apologized for the “inconvenience” caused by the Benton Harbor incident, and has set up an information centre for concerned residents.

Local news sources say it could be months before the cause of the rupture is known.

Welcome to the greenest building in Israel

Posted By Karin Kloosterman On September 17, 2014 @ 5:30 am In Eco-Living | No Comments


A strange-looking capsule made of curved bamboo strips (sustainably harvested, of course) pops out from a south-facing wall of sun-collecting tubes.

The intention of building such an odd accessory into Israel’s latest and foremost “green” building for the Porter School of Environment Studies at Tel Aviv University really was to scream “look at me” as thousands of Israelis make the daily commute into or across Tel Aviv.

Built atop the highest part of Tel Aviv on a precipice that hangs over the city’s main artery, the Ayalon Highway, the new edifice — Israel’s first LEED Platinum-certified building — sits outside the main belt of the campus beside the university’s unusual Urban Safari. While it was once a dumping ground, today this is prime real estate close to the train station.


The Porter School was established about 15 years ago, and oversees an estimated 150 master’s students and 60 aspiring PhDs every year. Now it finally has a home fitting of an environment school that attracts overseas students and visitors. ISRAEL21c got a private tour before the building opens for the coming school year.

Indoor wetlands

With no security perimeter, the Porter School welcomes guests with wetlands. A series of open gray-water collection pools recycles water from the building, turning it fresh with the help of water lilies.

Standing at a shaded entrance, Porter PhD student Hofit Itzhak Ben Shalom shows us the features that architects built in to ensure minimal energy will be consumed by the building and people using it.

“Notice no elevators?” she points out. “We have elevators, of course, but we’ve hidden them. We want people to think about taking the stairs automatically.”

There are about 300 sunny days per year in Israel. In the summer, the heat can be unbearable. Reducing the energy costs of cooling the building was a key factor in its construction.

It was designed by about 40 people from Axelrod-Grobman Architects; Chen Architects and Joseph Cory’s Geotectura Studio.


To deal with the intense heat of the sun, the building is in three layers to shield people working in its labs and offices. A series of enclosed patios are for public expo rooms. Solar tubes collect energy from the sun and simultaneously shade occupants from its rays. The tubes, in fact, generate about 30 percent of the energy used by the school. Water in the tubes gets heated, and up on the roof this heat drives turbines that create power.

On the wall with the solar tubes hangs an egg-shaped capsule where students and teachers can “float” new ideas. The capsule is more than a pretty nose on the face of the building. It is like an egg ready to give birth to new ideas.

The central lobby is a buffer zone with vaulted ceilings illuminating passive light and cooling features that transfer seaborne air around the building at certain times of the day. Cool water pipes underfoot circulate another layer of cool air around the building.

The third segment of the building to the north has few windows opening to the south in order to conserve air-conditioning energy. The office windows face the north, and the rooms were built smartly so that movement and light sensors will automate air-conditioning and artificial lighting when needed.

A green home of dreams

Much thought went into the construction of the building, from sensors in the wetlands to choice of plants for the green roof to transferring waste energy to water piping in the floors to cool or heat the building, depending on the weather. Even the concrete is from a sustainable source, Itzhak Ben Shalom tells ISRAEL21c.


The Porter School follows the Azouri Eco-Tower, Tel Aviv’s first LEED Gold standard edifice, built in 2010. Israel’s first “green” building was Intel’s Development Design Center in Haifa.

Prof. Dan Rabinovich, who heads the school, says that Porter’s students “belong to a generation that sees sustainability, the environment, social justice and our common future on this planet as one and the same.”

Their new building will be a testament to this. Look for it by day and lit up by night as you drive northward on the Ayalon Highway. Better still, pop in when it’s open to see what kind of new green research is cooking.

For more on the Porter School, click here.

How Our Weekly Grocery Shopping Trips Could Be Killing the Amazon


A new study reveals that consumerism has led to a dramatic uptick in illegal ground clearing in the Amazon, and what’s worse is that we might be contributing to the problem without even knowing it.

The study, published by Washington D.C. non-profit organization Forest Trends, finds that from the start of the century until 2012, forty-nine percent of all tropical deforestation was down to illegal ground clearing to provide room and materials for commercial agriculture, something that has at least played a part in an increased overall level of tropical forest loss, reversing years of progress. What that means is things like clearing the ground for livestock rearing and feeding, planting for crops like soy and harvesting for palm oil, are all helping to undo the good work on which environmentalists and international governments have campaigned.

The report is the first of its kind to look at the process of illegal conversion for the purposes of sustaining the growing consumer demand in Europe and the U.S., and as a result carries some significant insights because, even though the disappearing of our rainforests has been a topic for several years, until now there has been little distinction made between legal and illegal ground clearing.

To that end, the report finds that about 70 percent of all soy that is currently on the international trade market was cultivated on cleared tropical ground. In addition, one-third of beef supply and almost all palm oil, which is used in products from peanut butter to some cosmetics, comes from tropical forests. While it’s important to stress the negative environmental impact of clearing any of our major rainforests, illegally cleared land can be even more harmful in some senses because there is no oversight or monitoring. With this in mind, the exact proportion of soy, beef, leather and palm oil that comes from illegally cleared land is hard to determine, but the research puts it at about 44 percent of palm oil, 20 percent of all soy and 14 percent of beef.

The impact of this isn’t just on the forests themselves, however. Obviously, the wildlife that are killed or displaced during ground clearing suffer, but in addition to that the report estimates that the illegal conversion of tropical forests specifically for large-scale commercial agricultural during the 2000-2012 period was responsible for an average of 1.47 gigtonnes of CO2 per year, most of which can be attributed to the goods exportation trade. That’s a sizable amount of the insulating gas that has been shown to contribute to the rise in global temperatures. Obviously, governments aren’t factoring this into their fossil fuel use or emission targets, but if they did it would put a significant dent in their figures.

The report finds that even in countries where commercial agriculture isn’t a main driving force behind illegal deforestation, that situation is rapidly changing and that could be something that will threaten more and more indigenous human populations soon too. While the researchers accept that domestically both the U.S. and the European Union have strict laws that ban illegal ground clearing, and that many global governments have actively sought to find solutions to curb the practice, they have not gone so far as to ban the sale of products that result from illegal ground clearing and that means there’s actually more monetary incentive for sustaining the practice and other regions getting involved to boot.

“At the moment EU is giving large amounts of money to these tropical countries to reduce deforestation while at the same time it is shooting itself in the foot by importing all these dodgy products from illegal clearances,” lead researcher Sam Lawson told BBC News. “It needs to close that vicious circle, it needs to stop importing these products as a first step.”

It’s clear from this report that only strong government action can help reduce the incentives behind the illegal ground clearing problem, and companies will have to commit to refusing to take ingredients like palm oil from illegally cleared sources, but how can we as consumers try to limit how much we are contributing to this vicious cycle?

Looking for domestically made or sustainable brands is one solution. For things like soy that can be fairly easy, with labels like RTRS soy or ProTerra certified soy being helpful and easy indicators. While there are some sustainable sources of palm oil, it’s health profile isn’t particularly good, so it may be that we want to avoid it as much as possible anyway. In terms of general strategies though, buying locally sourced produce will be beneficial, as well eschewing-mass produced furniture in favor of new items bought using sustainable local wood, or finding second-hand items instead of new.

For more ideas on how you can incorporate sustainable living into your day-to-day life, please click here.


Can hydraulic fracturing work?

Hydraulic fracturing, for good and ill, is revolutionizing energy production worldwide, but like many changes in the energy industry there have been many reports of negative consequences for people, ranging from leaks of gas to the air to dumps of unknown fluids into drinking water supplies.

Many political and business leaders have expressed support for these techniques as a way of bridging towards long-term energy solutions. Natural gas is generally thought to be cleaner than, for example, coal, putting out more energy per unit, less carbon dioxide, and lower amounts of pollutants like sulfur that can contribute to acid rain.

However, it hasn’t been established that is the case for natural gas produced through this process. Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping a mixture of sand, water, and chemicals into the ground at high pressure, breaking the rocks and inserting the sand such that it maintains open channels for the gas to flow through. That is a very different process from simply tapping a freely-flowing natural gas reservoir.

There are multiple steps where things can go wrong. The wells could be poorly lined, allowing leaks. The fracking fluid could escape or be disposed of improperly, contaminating drinking water supplies. These are just some of the potential issues, and we already know some things are regularly going wrong. For example, this technique has been employed heavily in Texas and measurements have found huge releases of methane to the atmosphere already (see here:https://www.facebook.com/TheEarthStory/posts/608083292586052

But even if we imagine a world powered by renewable electricity, there are still consequences. It takes a lot of rare metals and significant mining to produce most of the renewable power stations currently available. 

A new study focused on the United Kingdom by scientists from the University of Manchester tried to look at the issue assuming both a best and worst case scenario. They scrutinized a variety of estimates for how much stray gas and pollution is released in both well-regulated and poorly-regulated cases and compared the results to those observed in other types of electricity, including renewables. The type of study is called a “life-cycle analysis”, an attempt to view the consequences of a type of energy production by considering every single step in the process.

In the worst-case scenario, hydraulic fracturing is a disaster. Counting the release of methane into the atmosphere, natural gas drilling can be even worse for driving climate change than coal burning since methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. If the gas leaks out, it is just awful. It doesn’t produce the same sulfur, but other uncontained components can be equally toxic and the chemical mixtures are a large potential spill hazard. 

On the other hand, one of their surprising conclusions is that based on analyses of actual wells and field sampling, there may be a way to do this right.

Every process for generating energy, from coal to renewables, has a life cycle of pollution generated. If you count up the waste of renewables, mostly produced during mining, and compare it to the best-case scenario, actually observed for some unconventional natural gas wells, burning the gas actually produces less overall pollution than the renewables. The energy releases from the mining and potential ground pollution are nonzero and compared to that, if the drilling companies are actually under control, unconventional natural gas production could be possible as an actual, fairly clean fuel.

In the view of those authors, the difference is regulation. A highly regulated system, monitored to make sure gas isn’t leaking and fluids are highly controlled, could actually help the world’s energy supply become cleaner, at least from the perspective of the atmosphere.

On the other hand, that’s an ideal we just haven’t seen. So far, unconventional gas production around the world has been nowhere near as regulated as it needs to be to meet this standard. In my next post, I’ll cover a newly published example of this problem from one of the areas of active hydraulic fracturing, Pennsylvania.


Image credit:http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_Fracturing#mediaviewer/File:Rig_wind_river.jpg

Read the original study:http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306261914008745

Press report:

As a South Asian American, my social media feeds have been filled with news about the California drought. Next to the endless stream of stories about the drought are posts about the hundreds of Indian and Pakistani villages now submerged by flooding.

If ever there was a time to take action to save our globe, it’s now.

Climate change impacts all of usAs Asian Americans, it hits especially hard. We live in the United States, the #1 historical climate polluter, while communities in our countries of origin are often at the center of climate ground zero. We can’t afford to wait for the next climate disaster before we choose to do something about climate injustice.

On September 23rd, Barack Obama will be in attendance the UN Climate Summit. We need him to lead on limiting climate impacts, and to set ambitious emissions reductions targets. As the leader of the United States, he must step up to support the most vulnerable communities by making significant contributions to the Green Climate Fund, and exercise his leadership by limiting public funding of dirty energy.

Tell President Obama to do the right thing at the UN Climate Summit.

The world is burning and flooding as we speak, and we cannot wait one minute longer to save what is left. Future generations are depending on us to end climate change, and to demand that our world leaders to do the same.

Join me now.

Anirvan Chatterjee

18MR Member & Director of Data Strategy, UC San Francisco 

Venetian Island City - Lunch Doodle Extended Edition.

It got a bit busy, but I loved making it. Drawing flat cityscapes with zero perspective and tiny tiny features is an almost entirely useless skill, but I could probably do it forever. I definitely wanna do something more with this.