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Notes on environment news and events

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Rachel Reef
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In today’s world, cities seem to be forever expanding. Corporate, modern offices, high-rise apartment buildings and packed-in-like-sardines homes are now the norm. While there’s no doubting the benefits of city living, this boom in concrete living means that those of us in urban and city areas are forced to face the prospect of living in residential environments with poorer quality or quantity of green space. It is a well known fact that most large cities have microclimates, whereby the inner city area is a couple of degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside. Urbanisation results in changes in natural water flow, carbon cycles, biodiversity and air pollution levels, which ultimately results in these microclimates forming.

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​Cities in Australia and around the world are realising the impact that urbanisation - and subsequent lack of nature - is having on climate change, pollution and human health and are increasingly working on 'green’ initiatives to counteract the negative effects. However, these initiatives can only happen so fast.

There are so many benefits to bringing nature closer to home, but sometimes we need to take things into our own hands. Having nature in your life is highly important and small lifestyle changes can make a massive impact both to your personal health and the health of the Earth.

The Benefits of Living Close to Nature

There are many studies, sources and evidence that support the notion that nature in urban areas can benefit our mental and physical health. Not only that, but increased greenery in our cities can help minimise the negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Lower stress levels

An American study conducted in 2008 found that workers who had even a small glimpse of a park or green area were significantly less stressed at work and were much more satisfied employees. So imagine the impact of bringing nature inside your home or office!

What is more, it has been proven that an increase in greenery positively correlates not only with less stress at work, but decreased anxiety and depression.

Reduce mental fatigue

Urban centres literally never sleep - there’s always something going on. With all these noises and distractions, city life can be incredibly tiring on both the body and mind. We now know that the constant stimuli offered by cities can actually dull the mind’s ability to think. But, the good news is that even brief interactions with natural environments have been proven to help reduce mental fatigue and restore your mind to a healthy state.

Long-term mental health

The University of Exeter found that greener surroundings in urban areas boosted residents’ mental health and happiness in the long-term, even after they moved away from the area. So even if you are planning on moving out to a more rural area in the near future, you can benefit your mind in the long term.

Recover from illness

That’s right - green areas help people prevent and recover from disease and illness; they also provide opportunities for physical activity, which in turn supports active lifestyle and reduces diseases including obesity - one of the developed world’s leading killers.

What is more, ailments like heart disease, neck/shoulder/back/wrist problems, diabetes, respiratory infections, migraines and even stomach illnesses can all be positively impacted by green spaces.

Green Solutions for City Living

The benefits are clear, but when you’re living in a city where the number of parks and nature reserves are largely controlled by powers much larger than ourselves, it can seem impossible to green-up our lifestyles. But is it really?

Spruce Up Your Backyard

Not everyone in the city has a backyard, but if you’re lucky enough to have one, you can go green-crazy! Don’t just think of it as somewhere to plant some trees - turn it into a garden retreat. Create your own organic vegetable garden, grow herbs and introduce some evergreen plants to keep your space thriving all year round.

To maximise your space, add walls, fences and other borders, which are perfect for increasing the amount of greenery you can add; climbing plants are amazing at turning a concrete view into a tropical oasis.

Create a Balcony Garden

Don’t have a backyard? No worries! If you have a balcony or rooftop you can have a flourishing mini-garden. The key to a perfect balcony garden is to choose plants that suit the size of the space and will flourish in the climate of your balcony. For example, if you get a lot of sunlight throughout the day you should look for plants that can survive constant sunshine such as sunflowers, lavender and petunias. Vegetables and fruit that enjoy lots of sunshine include tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and peppers.

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Again, if your balcony or roof has limited space, try incorporating wall plants, hanging plants, vines or even tall potted plants to maximise your space. A good balcony garden doesn’t mean you need to completely cover it in plants!

Go Green Indoors

Did you know that indoor air can be much more polluted than outdoor air? One of the wonderful benefits of having plants indoors is that they can help to purify the air and make you feel more relaxed overall. In the late 1980’s, NASA studied the benefits of indoor plants for removing volatile organic compounds from air and found that certain plants worked better than others, including aloe vera, gerber daisy, golden pothos and spider plants.

Even if you have no balcony or garden, you can still bring nature indoors and benefit from its positive impacts. There are numerous plants that thrive indoors and in low light areas. Indoor plants such as ferns, dracaena, peace lilies and small palms are ideal. You can also create an indoor organic herb garden, which is perfect for those that enjoy cooking and want fresh herbs to hand.

Start a Community Garden

Approach your council or building management about starting a community garden. You’ll need to consider who will be involved in maintaining the garden and what types of plants you want to grow. These gardens are also great social experiences, allowing you to get to know your neighbours and others in your local area.

If there is any unused space in your neighbourhood, you can also talk to the council about turning it into a green space that can benefit your whole community. Types of green spaces include: parks/pocket parks, playgrounds, green corridors (connecting pathways, cycleways), sporting areas and BBQ/picnic areas. While they might have grass on them, they could be even greener - ask about planting trees and shrubbery to maximise the oxygen output. So the more variety the better!

Top takeaway tips

- Choose plants that will grow / thrive in your space and climate; remember, city climates can often be much warmer than those outside of the city;

- Keep your gardens maintained and manicured to sustain their benefits; water your plants regularly and keep them nutritious with good soil and fertiliser;

- Including herbs, vegetable plants and fruit trees in your space is also a great way to support sustainable living; again, choose herbs/plants that you know will grow well in your particular environment.

By creating green spaces around us, even in the smallest of ways, we can sustain the benefits of nature when living in huge, concrete cities. And by doing this we can enrich our lives, mentally, physically and emotionally – while also giving something back to the greater natural world that surrounds us.

Are you ready to greenify your life?

Need more ideas?

Benefits of Green Space

Mental Health and Function & Green Environment

Green Cities and Microclimate

Start an Organic Garden

Start a Balcony Garden

Start a Community Garden

Rachel Reef

More and more often we come across information that the pollution in cities is severely damaging our health. Species are being extinct. Mankind has drifted away from nature in more ways that we can count. Sadly, we forget how nature works in its wonderful ways. We don’t really care about the trees, we need more parking space. More roads. More shopping centres. More, more, more...

In an imaginary situation, which one is more natural to you: a house surrounded by trees, with a lovely garden in the backyard, or the one that is in the middle of a concrete jungle? Yeah, thought so. So why is it that people prefer cutting down trees to just maintaining them?

Did you know that trees offer a number of additional benefits that can actually help protect your home? It’s true. So before you call in the arborist to chop down your precious trees, have a read of the following and reflect on the many ways trees can be of benefit to your home.

Trees protect your home from strong winds

At a time when weather patterns are unpredictable, and the incidence of hurricanes and strong storms seems to grow in number with each passing year (perhaps thanks in due part to Climate Change), protecting your home against strong winds is somewhat necessary. Trees can serve as effective windbreaks that slow down wind speed, and this can help protect your investment (as well as your family) from the kind of strong winds that can wreak serious damage on your property. However, the types of trees, as well as their placement around your home is important if you want to leverage on the windbreak capacity of trees. In general, a mixture of deciduous trees and evergreens – that mature a few feet higher than the height of your home – provide the best protection. If only evergreens are used (the type of tree that retains its foliage all year round), then they can allow so little wind through that they can become uprooted in fierce storms. But when used in combination with deciduous trees (the trees that do shed their foliage come Autumn time) they can provide that last line of defense against an encroaching wind storm. Trees-as-windbreakers should also be planted on the side of your home that receives the most wind. And at a far enough distance from your home and other trees so as to not inhibit growth. Of course, provided your trees are properly maintained and ready to endure strong winds.

Trees provide protection against soil erosion

Large trees are extremely effective natural water catchments that can help keep your soil fertile. Without enough trees around your property to soak up water when it rains, rainwater has nowhere to run bar across your garden surface – taking precious topsoil and other beneficial organic compounds with it to the drain. Trees can collect this water and feed it into the surrounding soil: keeping it moist and protecting it against wind erosion.

Trees can reduce the chances of burglary, graffiti and vandalism

Believe it or not, recent studies have shown that buildings and properties surrounded by trees experience lower than average instances of crime. In fact, they are 52 per cent less likely to be involved in some form of criminal behaviour, such as burglary, graffiti and vandalism. There are a number of explanations as to why these homes are less attractive to criminal entities. Some have argued that trees provide a natural calming effect on would-be robbers and vandals; whilst others have argued that trees are an indication that the home is well looked after, perhaps signaling that the home sports modern and effective security provisions to keep potential intruders outside. Whatever the reason, the presence of trees around your home offer tangible security benefits, in addition to the other protective advantages mentioned above.

Trees provide shade and can protect your home from high energy costs

Lastly, trees can also provide a welcomed shady area around your home to retreat to during those sultry summer days. They can also have an overall cooling effect on your home as they can block out much sun from bleeding through your windows and warming your home. In fact, studies have found that well placed trees around the home can reduce energy costs by as much as 30 per cent.

Finally, this story wouldn't be complete without mentioning the fact trees provide a home for various species. And you wouldn't want to destroy their homes just because you need a parking spot now, would you?

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Image Source

True: sometimes the trees around your home may look unsightly. But that doesn’t mean you should throw the baby out with the bath water and chop them all down. All that may be needed is a simple pruning to get them looking and feeling their best again. And at least this way you’ll be able to keep all of the added benefits trees provide.

Rachel Reef
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Queensland Labor Party Supports Tough Measures To Minimize Air Pollution Caused By Coal Dust

In December, we witnessed the Labor Party of Queensland supporting the stringent measures that are being implemented to limit the amount of coal being transported through Brisbane in an effort to contain the air pollution caused by coal dust. The measures being implemented include providing covers for trains transporting coal and stockpiles of coal. At the state’s recently concluded ALP conference, Peter Cumming, councilor for Wynnum, put forward a motion with a view to address the community’s growing concern about coal dust pollution along the rail route from the coal mines in Darling to the Port that passes through Brisbane. Mr. Cumming is from a suburb near Brisbane Port where millions of tons of coal are transferred from trains to ships and exported annually. Annastacia Palaszczuk, Labor Leader, said that the issue has already been referred to the appropriate policy committee for deliberation when asked about her support for the motion.

Further info http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/labor-supports-brisbane-clampdown-on-coal-dust/story-e6frg9df-1226774573600#

Monitoring studies carried out recently by a union of the community groups revealed that the fine particles level in the air is much above the limit prescribed by the state, particularly near stockpiles. Jondaryan, a town close to Darling Downs, is by far the most contentious area because of a stockpile located just one kilometer away from the town. New Acland mine which sends supplies to this stockpile wants to further expand its operations despite LNP’s ruling against such a move prior to the elections in the state. On the other hand, the holding company of the mine New Hope has promised that they would relocate the stockpile if they are given permission for their stage three expansion.

When asked about coal shipments in general and the Jondaryan stockpile, Andrew Powell, Environment Minister, responded by saying that the community’s concerns have been addressed by the Newman government. A process of spraying a ’veneer’ on to the coal loads has been initiated to prevent coal dust from flying out. Preliminary air monitoring studies indicate that this measure is adequate in the short term. However, further studies are also being carried out, according to Mr. Powell.

Measures Taken by Port of Brisbane to Contain Air Pollution Caused by Coal Dust

The Brisbane Port handles different types of cargos, including motor vehicles, containers, both wet as well as dry bulk commodities, etc. The dust raised when handling bulk commodities, such as coal, adversely affects the quality of ambient air and the prevailing wind conditions often extend the air pollution problems to the neighboring areas. Some of the measures implemented by the Port to minimize pollution include the following:

• Maintenance and monitoring of moisture present in the bulk product that is being handled

• Storing of bulk material in enclosed spaces

• Handling or loading/unloading of bulk material in covered areas

• Implementing management practices in a proactive manner, including covering and wetting of stockpiles that are exposed

Further info: http://www.portbris.com.au/environment/air-quality

Further, the Brisbane Port has developed and implemented Environmental Management Plans to reduce dust emissions caused by such activities as construction, traffic movement on areas that are not sealed and land reclamation. As far as particulate matter let into the ambient air because of combustion of fuels used in trucks, trains and ships that come to the port is concerned, the Brisbane Port has instituted indirect management techniques that contribute to improving transport efficiencies. These include:

• Improving the condition of the roads and port’s access

• Effective management of shipping movements

• Encouraging multi-modal transportation alternatives

Air quality monitoring activities have been undertaken since 1999. The programs that have been implemented at the port to ensure ambient air quality include:

• Real-time dust monitoring at three locations within the port from June 2013.

• Long-term dust monitoring study from 2003 to 2011: The study showed that the dust deposition in the Port area is more or less within the prescribed limit.

• Fallout dust analysis for motor vehicle storage facilities (2001 to 2003 and also in 2007): The study found out that motor vehicles storage does not impact atmospheric deposition and that road dust contributed to 70% dust deposition on vehicles.

• Roadside monitoring study (2006 to 2008)

• Fine particulate emission monitoring study (2012). Follow up study to be conducted in 2013/2014.

Results of Real-time Dust Monitoring Program

Under this program, the presence of large as well as fine dust particles in air is monitored and calculated on a daily basis. The results of the studies conducted during the first three months show that the particulate matter present in air close to the place where coal is handled is significantly below the levels prescribed by the government. The Brisbane Port has also launched an air quality website, as part of its commitment to the local communities, to provide real time charts, information on air monitoring programs, etc.

Health Effects of Coal Dust

A number of health problems are caused by coal dust that contributes to air pollution during the process of mining, preparation, storage, transport and combustion of coal. Some of the negative health effects are as follows:

• A reduction in life expectancy

• Respiratory hospital admissions

• Black lung caused by coal dust

• Congestive heart failure

• Non-fatal cancer, renal dysfunction, osteroporosia, ataxia

• Asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, etc.

• Damage to the nervous system

Carbon monoxide from explosives used in mines and that produced because of incomplete combustion of coal in power plants pollutes the air and poses health risks. Coal dust produced during mining, transportation and handling of coal causes severe as well as deadly respiratory problems. Coal sludge and acid mine run-off cause water pollution. Air pollution caused by coal dust, emissions from factories, vehicle exhausts, etc., can lead to incidences of lung diseases, cardiopulmonary diseases, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, asthma, etc. The top ten most polluted places in the world include Sumgayit, Azerbaijan; Linfen, China; Tianying, China; Sukinda, India; La Oroya, Peru; Dzerzinsk, Russia; Norilsk, Russia; Chernobyl, Ukraine and Kabwe, Zambia. Vapi, India which was there in this list has been removed because of the significant improvement in air quality in this place.

Environmental Effects of Coal Dust

Coal is responsible for a lot of damaging effects on the environment. Some of the aspects include:

Global warming: Power plants that use coal as fuel are mainly responsible for carbon dioxide emissions which contribute in a huge way to global warming. In complete combustion of coal produces black carbon which is also a contributor to climate change. When coal is mined, methane gas is released. It is estimated that 18 percent of the global warming effect is attributable to this activity. The contribution to the greenhouse effect from carbon dioxide generation is 50 percent.

Acid mine drainage: This refers to the flow of water that is acidic in nature from coal mines. This often happens because of exposure of rocks that contain pyrites, a sulfur-bearing mineral, during coal mining activities. Acid mine drainage greatly contributes to water pollution.

Air pollution: Emission of particulate matter as well as gasses such as methane, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide contribute a great deal to air pollution. Coal dust that is stirred up when mining and transporting coal also contributes to air pollution. Coal fires that occur in waste piles and abandoned mines release approximately 40 tons of mercury into the atmosphere annually.

Further reading

In conclusion, mining, transporting, storage and combustion of coal do not only result in health issues and deterioration of quality of life, but also the degradation of the ecosystem.

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