9 ways you can help the Amazon rainforest

BY Melissa Locker 2 MINUTE READ

Global warming’s catastrophic effects are on full display as Siberia, Alaska, and Brazil’s Amazon rainforest burn. The Amazon wildfires are particularly alarming as scientists have said that trees are the planet’s first line of defense against global warming. Due to deforestation, scientists estimate that we are near the tipping point where the Amazon can no longer function as a carbon sink. Brazil’s Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world and a vital carbon store. Cutting down trees in the rainforest produces 8% of net global emissions, more than the entire European Union.

But the rainforest has experienced a record number of fires this year, with 72,843 reported so far. While the state of Amazonas has declared an emergency (with the hashtag #PrayforAmazonia trending on social media this week), Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has done little to fight the blaze, even as the haze from the fires blackened the sky hundreds of miles away in São Paulo. Meanwhile, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said its satellite data showed an 84% increase in wildfires in the Amazon rainforest from the same period in 2018.

After reporting that number and an 88% increase in the deforestation rate in the Amazon, INPE’s director, Ricardo Galvão, was ousted from his job. According to the BBC, conservationists claim Bolsonaro has encouraged logging and farming in the Amazon, two activities that can lead to fires. “Starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident,” Alberto Setzer, an INPE researcher, told Reuters.

While there’s no way to stop the fires without hopping in a plane and flying to Brazil with a firehose, there are a few things you can do to help the rainforest, which may not be as satisfying as dousing flames but can have a long-lasting impact:

  • Protect an acre of rainforest through the Rainforest Action Network.
  • Help buy land in the rainforest through the Rainforest Trust.
  • Support the rainforest’s indigenous populations with Amazon Watch.
  • Reduce your paper and wood consumption or buy rainforest safe products through the Rainforest Alliance.
  • Support arts, science, and other projects that raise awareness about the Amazon through the Amazon Aid Foundation.
  • Help protect animals living in the jungle with WWF.
  • Reduce your beef consumption. Rainforest beef is typically found in fast-food hamburgers or processed beef products.
  • Make your voice heard by signing a petition.
  • If you’re in a position to help protect the rainforest on a macroscale, Foreign Policy argues that one of the most powerful tools for protecting the region is to work with businesses rather than against them. This is particularly effective in the beef industry, because as Foreign Policynotes, domestic meat producers in Brazil work with international companies that “are committed to zero-carbon standards, in principle” and are more susceptible to public outcry than Bolsonaro. They suggest that trade, distribution, and financing deals that are dependent on protecting the rainforest and sustainability can be a boon to the planet and to Brazilians who depend on the rainforest for their livelihoods.

Article originally appeared on fastcompany.com

Hey Startup Founders, Try One of These 15 Innovative Cities

BY Melissa Locker < 1 MINUTE READ

Amsterdam used to be the place where recent grads would spend a gap-year adventure biking between Red Light district tours and coffee-shop visits. Now it’s where entrepreneurs turn for venture capital funding, innovation infrastructure, and a network of like-minded corporate types. According to a new report on the top cities for innovation, Amsterdam has innovated itself to be one of the hubs for global entrepreneurship.

The report from Innovation Leader looks at the top 15 cities around the globe (excluding cities in North America) that are helping to promote innovation. To make its rankings, the website took into consideration factors like the presence of startups and venture capital funding, nearby top-notch universities, corporate headquarters of large companies, the presence of incubators and accelerator programmes, the economic competitiveness of the country, and government support for entrepreneurship, venture capital, and innovation infrastructure.

At the top of the list sits Beijing, thanks to its booming economy, the presence of startups, the 50 Beijing-based companies that ended up on the Fortune Global 500 list, plenty of multinational business folks, and access to government officials (always a good thing in China). While Asian cities dominate the list, Europe is well-represented, too, with four cities there making efforts to support innovative ideas, creative problem solving, and startup culture.

Perhaps the most interesting addition to the list is Jakarta, which is home to several fast-growing startups, including Traveloka, an online travel booking platform; Tokopedia, an online marketplace and provider of financial services; and Go-Jek, the country’s answer to Uber and its first unicorn.

Here’s the full list:

  1. Beijing
  2. London
  3. Tel Aviv
  4. Singapore
  5. Shanghai
  6. Stockholm
  7. Bangalore, India
  8. Amsterdam
  9. Tokyo
  10. Berlin
  11. Seoul
  12. Basel, Switzerland
  13. Shenzhen, China
  14. Dubai
  15. Jakarta, Indonesia

Check out the full details here.

Originally published on fastcompany.com


Oh Good, Here’s Another Reason to Hate Credit Cards

BY Melissa Locker 1 MINUTE READ

Credit cards are the worst. They disconnect users from their money, making it too easy to spend and too simple to rack up debt and potentially ruin your credit score, making it harder to buy other things. Plus, they get skimmed or the numbers stolen, and for some reason most credit card companies think a signature is a good way to keep them secure.

Now it turns out there’s another reason to hate credit cards, and it has nothing to do with money.

Credit cards are just plain dirty. In fact, they have more germs than a urinal handle, according to LendEDU.com. The finance website swabbed credit and debit cards along with a whole bunch of other everyday items, sent them to a lab for analysis, and found that they are positively filthy. The germ scores (where lower scores indicate less bacteria) for the 41 cards tested by the website were 285 on average. For some reason, the magnetic strip had the most germs, coming in with a germ score of 317. Weirdly, credit cards had more germs than debit cards, with an average germ score of 314. (Fun fact: One of the few things that came in with a higher germ score were the handles on Citibikes!)

According to the tests, cards were significantly grimier than cold hard cash. LendEDU tested 27 different bills and 12 different coins, and found that bills had a germ score of 160, and coins just 136. It’s not that cash is clean, though. According to research from Mastercard and the University of Oxford, the average bank note is home to 26 000 types of bacteria, including E. Coli, and the average coin has more germs than on a toilet seat.

This is all just a good argument to start carting hand sanitiser with you everywhere or finally figure out how to use Apple Pay.


People on the Internet Have No Idea How Bad They Are at Online Security

BY Melissa Locker 2 MINUTE READ

new survey from Google and Harris Poll, released a year after Google introduced “.app” as a more secure alternative to “.com,” shows that while 55% of Americans over the age of 16 give themselves an A or B in online safety and security, 70% of them wrongly identified what a safe website looks like.

The survey of 1 002 adults ages 16-24 and 1 001 adults over the age of 25, all living in the United States, shows that most people dramatically overestimate their understanding of internet security and website safety. According to the survey, while 73% of 16-to-24-year-olds say they can tell the difference between a website that protects their private information and one that doesn’t, only 23% of them correctly identified a link with “https” as being the most secure. In fact, 42% of the survey respondents of all ages didn’t realise there was a difference between a web address with “http” and “https.”

Even after being told that the “s” means a more secure connection, nearly 3 out of 10 (29%) Americans over the age of 16 would still not check to see if there was an “https” on a website where they are entering personal information.

To help consumers stay safe online, Google suggests following these security and safety tips whenever you’re browsing the web, especially before you share personal information online:

  • Always look for the lock icon and the “s” in “https” in a web address to make sure the website you’re visiting is secured with encryption
  • When creating your own website, make sure to install an SSL certificate so that connections to your site are encrypted
  • When clicking links in emails, PDFs, or online text, hover over the hyperlink and make sure it’s what you expect
  • Closely read web addresses and watch for misspellings or extra letters to prevent being misdirected. Hackers can be crafty and will do everything to make a web address look like the real thing but change one minor detail so that you are sent to their website instead of the real one
  • Visit safe.page to learn about URL literacy and simple ways to stay safe online

Originally published on fastcompany.com


9 industries being disrupted by cannabis and CBD

BY Melissa Locker 2 MINUTE READ

If you haven’t noticed, even in provinces where recreational marijuana hasn’t been legalised yet, cannabis and CBD are everywhere. The newly mainstream CBD is the go-to for wellness products, stepping in as a cure-all for relaxation, sleep loss, anxiety, muscle aches and pains, and more, causing waves in the pharmaceutical and medical industry.

But according to CB Insights’ latest report, CBD and the like aren’t just disrupting your medicine cabinet and refrigerator with CBD-infused drinks and treats. The rise in interest and creation of marijuana-adjacent products are disrupting some of the biggest, most conservative, and staid blue-chip industries around, including banking, energy, and agriculture profession.

Here are nine of the many industries being disrupted by the rise of hemp and its related products:

  1. Biodiesel. Turns out hemp can produce nearly four times as much oil per acre as the current favorite source of biodiesel, soybeans. Hemp could soon be the go-to for making diesel fuel from a renewable plant source.
  2. Plastics. Now that the 2018 US Farm Bill has legalised the production of industrial hemp, entrepreneurs are figuring out ways to use hemp as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic.
  3. Paper. An acre of industrial hemp produces around four times the amount of paper that one acre of trees does.
  4. Billboard advertising. Advertising the product is complex. Billboards can skirt the issue.
  5. Construction. One word: Hempcrete.
  6. Textiles. Hemp-based fabrics can stand in for cotton, denim, wool, or your favourite athleisure wear.
  7. Packaging. As more cannabis-related products hit the market, the packaging industry is booming. Per CB Insights, the cannabis packing industry is expected to reach about $5 billion in value by 2026.
  8. The law. As more countries legalise marijuana, the intricacies in their laws have buoyed a budding industry: cannabis lawyers.
  9. Banking. Since marijuana is still illegal on the US federal level and big banks don’t want to risk getting involved, smaller, local banks and credit unions are bridging the gap, helping legal cannabis companies bank while making bank.
Originally published on fastcompany.com

Plastic Bottles Surpass Plastic Bags As The Biggest Threat to Oceans and Rivers

BY Melissa Locker 2 MINUTE READ

The good news is that consumers in Europe have done a great job curbing their use of plastic bags, and fewer are ending up in waterways around the world. The bad news is that now plastic bottles are clogging oceans and rivers.

According to the new Plastic Rivers report from Earthwatch Europe and Plastic Oceans UK, plastic bottles are now the most prevalent form of plastic pollution in European waterways. Coming in second are food wrappers, like potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers, followed by cigarette butts.

Here’s how the list of visible litter shakes out:

  • Bottles: 14%
  • Food wrappers: 12%
  • Cigarette butts: 9%
  • Disposable food containers: 6%
  • Cotton-swab sticks: 5%
  • Takeaway cups: 4%

Not only are Coke bottles, Camel butts, Frito-Lay packages, and some stranger’s ear wax-laden Q-tip nasty to look at while you’re trying to appreciate nature, but they kill wildlife and fish and are difficult to clean up.

As The Guardian notes, while much reporting has been done on the plastic polluting the world’s oceans, about 80% of that ocean plastic starts as river pollution. Some experts believe that cleaning the trash out of rivers is the best way to curb plastic in the ocean. Well, the second best way: Cutting out single-use plastic products remains the best way to fight plastic pollution. The EU is working on that as it recently passed legislation to ban many single-use plastics by 2021.

Going back to the good news: It’s clear that consumer efforts can pay off. After years of consumers bringing their own bags to the store, ponying up for plastic bag fees, or voting in plastic bag bans, the fight against plastic bag pollution seems to be working. According to the report, plastic bags now make up only 1% of plastic rubbish in freshwater in Europe.

Now it’s up to consumers to fight the next battle in plastic pollution and stop buying drinks in plastic bottles—and it’s up to companies to start offering alternatives. The war against plastic to save oceans requires companies and consumers to work together to protect the planet.

Originally publishing on fastcompany.com


Teenagers Aren’t All That Affected By Screen Time After All, Study Says

BY Melissa Locker 2 MINUTE READ

If you spend a lot of time arguing with your teenager about their screen time, maybe you should save yourself the headache. New research indicates that copious amounts of texting, keeping up that Snapchat streak, swiping through Instagram DMs, and watching YouTube has little effect on the psychological well-being of teenagers. That’s according to a study by researchers at Oxford University, which was published in the journal Psychological Science

The research, conducted by Andrew Przybylsk and Amy Orben, analyzed the screen use of more than 17 000 teenagers across Ireland, the US, and the UK, and found that screen time had a “minuscule” effect on well-being in teenagers when compared with other activities in an adolescent’s life. The effect was believed to be small enough that adolescents “would need to report 63 hours and 31 minutes’ more of technology use a day in their time-use diaries to decrease their wellbeing” by an amount big enough for them to notice.

The researchers also found that, despite the common belief, using screens before bedtime was completely unrelated to psychological well-being. (That doesn’t mean that using screens before bed doesn’t disrupt sleep patterns.) This backs up earlier research that screen time, in and of itself, isn’t inherently bad for children.

To make this assessment, the researchers used a combination of time-tracking diaries and self-reporting measures to determine internet usage in a way that they believe is a more accurate representation of how much time participants actually spent online. Accurate accounting is one of the reasons the team undertook the study in the first place, arguing, according to The Guardian, that earlier studies were “unreliable” because they were based solely on self-reported screen usage, even though “only one-third of participants provide accurate judgments when asked about their weekly internet use.”

In the study, they say that “42% overestimate and 26% underestimate their usage.” The lack of reliable data, and the conclusions and policy built on that unreliable data, is something Orben has been fighting against (and tweeting about) for some time.

Of course, mental well-being isn’t the only reason that parents want to limit their teens’ screen time. They may want them to go to sleep, get off their couch, do their homework, or any number of other things parents want kids to do around the house. Or perhaps their child can’t psychologically handle Instagram, which is completely fair and understandable.

Still, it may be some relief to parents that if they aren’t up for the fight, they won’t be harming their precious angel’s mental health—and that’s probably good for everyone’s well-being.

Originally published on fastcompany.com