Magical Wooden Classroom Helps Children Bond with Nature

The past decade has probably seen the worst environmental damage humans have ever caused in history. However, it is also probably witness to the best human efforts in reversing the tragic situation and working towards accountability. Chile will create five new national parks in a preservation effort, China will reforest an entire area as big as Ireland (6.6 million hectares!), and announced most recently, Australia will spend 500 million dollars to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

If we are to continue these attempts at environmental preservation, then financial support from the government has to be accompanied by cultural efforts.  By which I mean we need education. And who else can we educate more than those who will inherit this earth? To continue our environmental progress, it is children who foremost need to understand how nature works.

That’s exactly the objective of this magical wooden classroom designed by Studio Weave for Belvue School.

[T]he building was created to help reconnect students with nature and it opens up to an adjacent woodland recently acquired by the school to serve as an educational nature reserve . . . Constructed from a low budget originally allocated for a cargotecture school expansion, the 1,600-square-foot Wooden Classroom comprises a “cozy lounge” informal teaching space and a “sociable kitchen” student-run school cafe next to the woods.

With curved ceilings and clerestory windows, the wooden classroom is entirely provided with natural lighting and ventilation. Students may appreciate the neighbouring woodland through large window walls. To constantly check in with the nature aspect, a forest management specialist was consulted by Studio Weave throughout the construction process for Belvue School.

“We identified that the boundary between the playground and woods marks the border between familiar school territory and the magical, mysterious world of trees,” said Studio Weave. “This very important threshold, symbolising the entrance to another world, like the gate to the secret garden, or the cupboard to Narnia became a focal point and we consequently designed the woodland classrooms to act as a gatehouse between one world and another.”

If that doesn’t sound magical, I’m not sure what does. It makes me want to be a child and rediscover the earth with fresh eyes again. Maybe that’s what we all need to really care for nature. Then again, bringing back the past is totally impossible. So here’s to hoping the children retain the wonder and magic they experience in this gorgeous wooden classroom to the bigger world once they themselves grow bigger in the future.

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Black Butterflies Inspire More Efficient Solar Panels

When it comes to moving forward with technology, we tend to fall back on nature. After all, in most ways, science is organic. If slugs can inspire a medical glue that will ease the difficulties of surgery, other animals can do the same. To improve on solar panels, researchers are drawing ideas from black butterflies.

The rose butterfly is native to Southeast Asia. Because it is cold-blooded and needs sunlight to fly, its black wings have evolved to be very good at absorbing energy.

Normally, solar panels are made with thick solar cells. Thin film solar cells have a lot of potential, but are not as productive. The black butterflies absorb heat perfectly because their wings are covered in holes. These holes effectively scatter light.

“I think what’s interesting is the excellent approach of looking at the underlying physiological concepts and then taking these concepts and emulating them in a structure that doesn’t look quite look like how a butterfly looks but does the same physics,” says Mathias Kolle, a professor of engineering.

The research has since received proper funding and, hopefully, will flutter along seamlessly.

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Wild Wolves Are Making A Comeback In Rome

Wild tigers are resurfacing in Kazakhstan after a 70-year absence and it seems Italy may be experiencing something quite similar. Wild wolves, a symbol of the country, are making a comeback in the outskirts of Rome after nearly a century.

“This is the first time in more than 100 years that wolves have been found living near Rome,” [said professor of natural sciences] Alessia De Lorenzis.

“We think they probably arrived here from the area around Lake Bracciano, north of Rome, where wolves have always existed, even when the species was pushed towards extinction,”

Biologists spotted the wild wolves roaming a reserve in Castel di Guido. They are of no apparent threat to livestock, as they survive on a diet of wild boars. Researchers have blamed their initial demise on hunting.

Killing wolves was encouraged in Italy until the 1970s, by which time only 100 or so individuals remained in Italy. But the species was given protected status in 1971 and has since gradually recovered.

There are around 1,500 – 2,000 wolves inhabiting Italy, with others bordering France. French farmers have claimed that the slender beasts have been attacking their sheep. But then again, perhaps it’s time we listen more to the animals’ needs and less to ours. Based on studies of animal extinction or endangerment, we could surmise it isn’t really the animals crying wolf, is it?

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China To Set Up Enormous Panda Sanctuary

If not the Great Wall, it seems China’s main attraction is its everlasting devotion to the giant panda. The home of the Forbidden City has even built a solar farm inspired by the peaceful bamboo-munchers. Now hoping to increase populations, China is funding a national park dedicated to the slow-reproducing bears.

Plans for the park – which would cover 27,134 sq km – were first put forward early last year by the ruling Communist Party and the State Council, China’s cabinet.

If the 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) proves enough, the Giant Panda National Park will dwarf Yellowstone by three times. With over 80% of the world’s pandas situated in Sichuan, 2018 is the perfect year for a get-together. Getting them to breed? We’ll leave it up to luck.

Giant pandas have a notoriously low reproductive rate, a key factor – along with habitat loss – in their status as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.

We get it, guys. Dating around can be unsettling — but perhaps not for the greater good.

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Satellites Capture Massive Penguin Colony

Penguins are adorable, and that isn’t ever up for debate. Even political bodies such as the Chilean government would agree. Ultimately, they did snub a billion-dollar mining project to save the flightless birds. However, populations are on the rocky side — or so we thought. Cruising over the Antarctic Peninsula, NASA satellites captured a 1.5 million fleet of penguins.

“The sheer size of what we were looking at took our breath away,” [said] co-author Heather Lynch, Ph.D… “We thought, ‘Wow! If what we’re seeing is true, these are going to be some of the largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world, and it’s going to be well worth our while sending in an expedition to count them properly.”

Drones captured roughly 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, which isn’t even the most NASA has ever tallied. It’s only the third or fourth. In the last 60 years, sea ice levels and concentrations caused population drops. Apparently, the feisty fledglings are adapting.

“The size of these colonies makes them regionally important and makes the case for expanding the proposed Weddell Sea Marine Protected Area to include the Danger Islands,” [said] co-author Michael Polito, Ph.D.

What’s that I hear? A lot of happy feet stomping on cool ice up in Antarctica!

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Peru National Park To Protect Untouched Forests

To salvage the remnants of Mother Nature, activist groups, along with government agencies, are erecting new national parks. So far, protected areas in Chile have emerged, with Peru scrambling to assemble Yaguas National Park. The area remains one of the most intact forests on the planet.

More than 1,000 people… live along a 125-mile stretch of the Yaguas and Putumayo rivers. To them, this place is “sachamama,” a Quechua word roughly meaning “mother jungle,” the sacred heart of the area that produces the flora and fauna on which the groups depend.

Realizing the current impact of climate change, Peru is teaming up with South American countries such as Ecuador and Colombia. Together, the environmental superpowers are contending to fulfill the Paris climate agreement.

“For now, Yaguas is safe, but in the 20 years I’ve been working in the Amazon, I’ve learned the hard way that today’s remoteness is tomorrow’s access,” said Gregory Asner, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

In the end, it’s we who lose when we neglect the planet. After all, the Earth won’t combust–it’ll just pick us off.

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Arctic Apples That Don’t Brown Can Cut Waste

Thinkers and innovators from around the world are making incessant attempts to counter food waste. Supermarkets in Norway are selling “expired” food still fit for the kitchen. Kitchen company Smarter is installing refrigerator cameras to help households monitor their food. But some groups believe food itself is where the core problem lies. Scientists have developed a genetically modified apple that doesn’t go brown, thus cutting waste and costs.

The Arctic apple… [is] the result of some very clever genetic engineering that, according to the company, “silences” the enzyme that causes regular old nature-made apples to brown.

Okanagan Specialty Foods will be selling the apples in supermarkets pre-sliced, to really drive the point. (It’s an A+ for clever marketing!) The “hacked” apples don’t necessarily have added health benefits, but their prolonged freshness will reduce waste.

“Arctic apples are one of the most studied foods of all time. They have been rigorously reviewed by… teams at the USDA, FDA, CFIA and Health Canada, based on more than ten years of data and studies, and these experts all agree that Arctic apples are as safe and healthy as other apples.” [claims the site.]

While I was hoping Arctic apples would up my resistance to the common cold, I can’t say I’m disappointed. I never liked slicing them anyway.

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Chile To Open 10 Million Acres Of Nature Parks

They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone — and nature couldn’t agree more. Realizing the value of its waters, Mexico recently built the world’s largest marine reserve yet, spanning 57,000 square miles. Echoing its environmental efforts is Chile, transforming 10 million acres of land into five national parks.

The government signed a deal with Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, who worked with late husband Doug for decades to protect areas of Patagonia.

Tompkins Conservation, the not-for-profit organisation set up by the couple, said the area being protected was roughly the size of Switzerland.

Doug Tompkins, who founded iconic outdoor brand North Face, died in a tragic kayaking accident in 2015. Accused of land-grabbing, Tompkins’ was set purely on ecological preservation.

“I am proud of my husband Doug and his vision which continues to guide us, in addition to our entire team, for completing these two national parks and the broader network, a major milestone of our first 25 years of work,” [Mrs. Tompkins] said.

Being part of society’s 1% may be tricky — but power doesn’t always equate greed.

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New Zealand To Plant 1 Billion Trees In 10 Years

Drone technology, among other things, has made reforestation more effective than it has ever been. An abundance of more systematic methods of tree-planting is inspiring many to participate in cutting carbon emissions. For New Zealand in particular, the idea is to go big or go home. Its ambitious government has sworn to plant 270,000 trees a day in order to reach its target of 1 billion in just a decade.

“It’s going to take commitment… we would expect and we would hope that [the Government] is going to try and enlist a private sector investor here because… trying to do it by themselves isn’t a clever idea.” [says Forest Owners Association CEO David Rhodes.]

As a country so heavily reliant on lush forestry, it’s no surprise that New Zealand has previously attempted projects of this scale. The 90s saw some success, with workers planting nearly 100,000 hectares of trees annually. Though 1 billion trees seems to be the government’s greatest obstacle, it’s working with the forest industry that is.

“It’s not just new planting, but sending the right signals to the current investors that it’s worth getting back into the game.”

With hundreds of jobs bound to become available, I can’t imagine seeing this project hit the back burner.

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U.K. Passes Ban On Pesticides For Bees

As a vital part of the food chain, bees deserve more attention than they are currently receiving. Though devices such as the BuzzBox are making beekeeping more efficient, they aren’t addressing the steep decline in bee populations. Stepping up to the plate, the U.K. is finally supporting a total ban on bee-harming pesticides.

“The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100 billion food industry, is greater than previously understood.

“I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.” [said environment secretary Michael Gove.]

The monetary value of pollinating insects in the U.K. has shot up to nearly £680 million per annum. At that price point, it’s difficult to believe that bees are simply an expendable asset in nature. In the long run, pesticides aren’t only a threat to wildlife, but to crop consumers altogether.

“We need to encourage farmers to move away from reliance on pesticides as the solution to the many problems that industrial monoculture cropping create.”

Looks like permaculture farming may be the way to go.

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