All posts by Our Planet

Reducing the environmental impact of an office building

The damaging decline of our environment is undoubtedly a pressing concern. The rise in pollution, excess use of energy and our reliance on non-recyclable materials are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Whilst positive changes are being made, including supermarkets cutting down the use of plastic bags and the EU’s ban on non-biodegradable products, one area that’s often overlooked is the impact office buildings have on the environment.

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Bananas have died out once before – don’t let it happen again

You probably take bananas for granted. In the United Kingdom, one in four pieces of fruit consumed is a banana and, on average, each Briton eats 10 kg of bananas per year; in the United States, that’s 12 kg, or up to 100 bananas. When I ask people, most seem to think bananas grow on trees. But they don’t, in either the literal or the figurative sense: in fact, they’re in danger of extinction.

I knew almost nothing about bananas when I landed in Costa Rica in 2011. I was a young scientist from the University of Michigan on a scholarship to study abroad, with fantasies of trapping and identifying tropical fish in pristine rainforest streams. But the institute I was enrolled at brought us to a banana plantation, and from the moment I set foot on the dense, dark clay beneath that endless green canopy, my fish fantasy evaporated. I became fascinated by the fruit I found growing on large, towering herbs, lined up in rows in their tens of thousands.

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World’s Water Inequality Crisis

Despite today people are living longer, healthier, and happier lives than ever before, there are still many problems that humanity should address. One of the most important of them is the water inequality. While people in First World countries can very easily take fresh, clean water for granted, more than 800 million others in impoverished areas have no access to any clean water source. It is a common occurrence in some regions for people to defecate openly, walk more than 30 minutes to access clean water and share toilets with other humans. In 2018, is this really something that we should just accept as an inevitable way of the world?

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You don’t have a right to believe whatever you want to

Do we have the right to believe whatever we want to believe? This supposed right is often claimed as the last resort of the wilfully ignorant, the person who is cornered by evidence and mounting opinion: ‘I believe climate change is a hoax whatever anyone else says, and I have a right to believe it!’ But is there such a right?

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What a fossil revolution reveals about the history of ‘big data’

In 1981, when I was nine years old, my father took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although I had to squint my eyes during some of the scary scenes, I loved it – in particular because I was fairly sure that Harrison Ford’s character was based on my dad. My father was a palaeontologist at the University of Chicago, and I’d gone on several field trips with him to the Rocky Mountains, where he seemed to transform into a rock-hammer-wielding superhero.

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Now it’s time to prepare for the Machinocene

Human-level intelligence is familiar in biological hardware – you’re using it now. Science and technology seem to be converging, from several directions, on the possibility of similar intelligence in non-biological systems. It is difficult to predict when this might happen, but most artificial intelligence (AI) specialists estimate that it is more likely than not within this century.

Freed of biological constraints, such as a brain that needs to fit through a human birth canal (and that runs on the power of a mere 20W lightbulb), non-biological machines might be much more intelligent than we are. What would this mean for us? The leading AI researcher Stuart Russell suggests that, for better or worse, it would be ‘the biggest event in human history’. Indeed, our choices in this century might have long-term consequences not only for our own planet, but for the galaxy at large, as the British Astronomer Royal Martin Rees has observed. The future of intelligence in the cosmos might depend on what we do right now, down here on Earth.

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Biodiversity isn’t just pretty: it future-proofs our world

By Elizabeth Boakes, a research associate at the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London. Edited by Sally Davies

A small boy hauls enthusiastically on his fishing rod. The line flies up and a needle-spined fish strikes him in the eye. Desperate to stay outdoors, he ignores the pain, but his sight deteriorates over the following months. He continues to pursue his love of nature but, now blind in one eye, he is confined to studying creatures that are easy to see: insects. He grows to become the global authority on ants, and in later life is given the moniker ‘the father of biodiversity’.

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Want faster data and a cleaner planet? Start mining asteroids

Mining asteroids might seem like the stuff of science fiction, but there are companies and a few governments already working hard to make it real. This should not be surprising: compared with the breathtaking bridges that engineers build on Earth, asteroid-mining is a simple, small-scale operation requiring only modest technological advances. If anything is lacking, it is the imagination to see how plausible it has become. I am afraid only that it might not arrive soon enough to address the urgent resource challenges that the world is facing right now.

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Earth 2.0: Kepler-452b

NASA’s space observatory Kepler may have discovered a possibly Earth-like planet, a rocky world orbiting a Sun-like star at almost the exact same distance Earth orbits our own Sun: Kepler-452b!

“The new Earth” is located 1,400 light-years from us. It orbits a Sun-like star that is 4% more massive and 10% brighter than our Sun. Kepler-452b is 1.6 times the size of Earth and the scientists are fairly sure that it is a rocky world.

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Two kangaroos get into boxing match (video)

Somewhere in the Central Coast of Australia, two kangaroos are caught on camera in an intense boxing match on a suburban street. The marsupials can be seen punching and kicking each other close to houses in Central Coast, New South Wales. It is not clear where the action was filmed.

In this incredible video below, the funny fight goes on for more than five minutes. Luckily, both kangaroos were OK and not seriously harmed after the match.

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