Ecotourism on the rise in United States

More and more travelers have been jumping onboard with a new, green way to travel called ecotourism.

With the sunshine of summer on the horizon, many Americans are anticipating relief from the cold temperatures and harsh weather of winter. Around this time of year, it's not uncommon for this anticipation to result in an influx of vacation bookings. In recent years, more and more travelers have been jumping onboard with a new, green way to travel called ecotourism.

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines this form of vacationing as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." The TIES website says that ecotourists should plan trips that have minimal impact on their surroundings, offer opportunities to learn about and respect other cultures, create a positive experience for everyone involved, invest in conservation somehow and empower natives of the destination.

"Ecotourism tries not only to minimize the negative impact of travel but to maximize the positive impact," Ayako Ezaki of TIES told Forbes Magazine. "We all know travel experiences are rewarding for people who take the trips. At the same time we try to give back to the destinations and the people who make these experiences possible."

TIES anticipates that an increasing number of tourists that are going green in the near future. The organization predicted that ecotourism could grow to the point where it makes up for 25 percent of the global travel market in the next six years, according to Forbes. If the industry does reach that growth potential, that would mean it's raking in $470 billion per year in revenues.

And while the trend has a lot of potential for profitability, the U.N. World Tourism Organization says it's actually saving Americans money, according to Forbes. The publication said that U.S. ecotourists spend $66 a day when traveling internationally, while those who book traditional vacations outside of the country spend about $88 per day.

Mushroom-based packages an eco-friendly alternative to plastic

Using what are essentially the roots of mushrooms, two former RPI students came up with biodegradable packaging blocks that are gaining popularity.

Consumers who are looking to go green will likely purchase environmentally friendly products. These items, however, are still typically packaged with cardboard and plastic. While these materials may be recyclable or made of recycled goods, they aren't entirely sustainable. That may seem nitpicky, but there is, in fact, a greener way to keep retail items safe for sale without using any wasteful materials.

One company found a way to turn mushrooms into packaging blocks, which turned out to be so effective that some of the world's largest manufacturers are buying into the trend.

Ecovative Design was founded five years ago by Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, who met as mechanical engineering and design students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, according to The Associated Press. The company uses mycelium, which are essentially mushroom "roots," to make soft packaging blocks that serve as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastic wrap or cardboard.

From its upstate New York factory, Ecovative makes thousands of these blocks that are used by companies like Dell and Crate and Barrel to package their products, the news source reports.

The process to create these blocks is "low-tech biotech," Bayer explained to the media outlet. First, the mycelium is pasteurized and put into plastic molds.

"The mix is covered for about five days as millions of mycelium strands grow around and through the feedstock, acting as a kind of glue," the AP reports. "The piece is heat dried to kill the fungus, insuring that mushrooms can't sprout from it. Since the mycelium is cloned, the product does not include spores, which can trigger allergies."

While the biodegradable blocks are safe to eat, it's recommended that consumers simply appreciate how they help the environment, rather than actually consume them.

GM the first vehicle manufacturer to label cars with environmental impact info

Car manufacturers are starting to understand that the number of green consumers is escalating every day.

Car manufacturers understand that the number of green consumers is escalating every day. With that comes a new automotive industry competition to see who can produce the most fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly vehicle. As it currently stands, there is no standardized way to determine how much more eco-friendly one car is to another beyond companies' savvy marketing schemes.

GM, however, has stepped up to the plate and will soon offer the first voluntary, third-party certified labels on their vehicles that show car shoppers exactly how green each auto really is.

The Ecologic labels, as they're called, will first appear on the 2012 Chevy Sonic, offering information such as environmental impact and fuel economy.

The stickers will not include information about the recycled materials manufacturers used to produce the car, but may in the future. Since the eco-labels are such a new initiative, the process will inevitably grow over time.

"We view this as we view the larger sustainability efforts in the company, this is a journey, it never ends and it will evolve over time," Mike Robinson, GM's vice president of sustainability and regulatory affairs, said in a statement. "This is not a static, once-and-done type of thing."

The eco-labels are only a part of GM's efforts to go green, as the company has invested roughly $40 million in means of reducing its facilities' carbon emissions by 8 million metric tons. GM has set a goal to completely avoid sending waste from all of the conglomerate's worldwide facilities into landfills, according to a press release. Additionally, after the BP oil spill in 2010, the company took the booms used to contain spreading oil in the ocean and recycled them for materials to make their Chevy Volt.

Alaska’s wildlife faces multiple drilling projects that could destroy eco-systems

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to an array of wildlife and whole lot of oil.

James Cameron's "Avatar" was a futuristic take on a problem that's very much real today. Many of the planet's most beautiful places are home to not only a wide selection of rare species of wildlife, they also have large reserves of oil, natural gas and rare earth elements.

One of the most notable of these locations is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeast Alaska. The 19-million acre refuge is populated with polar bears, wolverines, peregrine falcons and caribou, but underneath the frozen tundra is what is thought to be enormous reserves of oil and natural gas.

Former president George W. Bush was one of the most notable proponents of drilling in ANWR, but Americans stood up to protect the area. President Barack Obama, who has adamantly made his stance on the importance of relying on domestic fuel sources clear, is against oil excavation in the Alaskan refuse, based on his belief that tampering with the fragile ecosystems and wildlife isn't worth the benefits of drilling, according to The Huffington Post.

The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in Alaska face a similar dilemma to ANWR. The source reports that Royal Dutch Shell will likely explore drilling projects in the northern Alaska waters, which not are not inhabited by walruses, polar bears and many different species of whales, they're also a very important part of nearby Native American communities.

Another Alaskan area that's in danger is Bristol Bay Watershed, which is currently being excavated for its copper, gold and molybdenum. The "Pebble Project," as it's been named, will break up the wildness of Bristol Bay, which is home to one of the largest salmon fisheries in the world, to make room for two-mile long, one-mile wide and 1,700 foot deep mine that The Huffington Post reports would be able to be seen from space.

Mayor Bloomberg looks to make a greener Big Apple

New York City produces 10,000 tons of trash every day, and only recycles an “anemic” 15 percent of it.

New York City produces 10,000 tons of trash every day, and as Eddie Bautista explained to The New York Times, the city only recycles an "anemic" 15 percent of it. Because of that, the Big Apple has very high pollution emission levels.

Earlier in the month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that New York City is looking into using a facility that could recycle 450 tons of trash each day, taking a significant chunk out of the total waste the city produces and turning it into a clean energy source.

Bloomberg made the Request for Proposals announcement during his State of the City speech as part of his initiative called PlaNYC, with which he intends to cut the amount of waste the city sends to landfills in half with increased efforts to reuse, recycle and compost trash.

The facility would be privately owned, and would not require any capital funding from New York City, though it will pay a per ton fee to the facility operator. Bloomberg said that it would need to be within 80 miles of the city and capable of processing a maximum of 450 tons of trash daily. He specifically called for a facility that used innovative waste-to-energy technology and explicitly excluded incineration as an option.

"There are technologies that have proven to be a success in countries around the world, and right here in New York City, we're already converting sewage to clean energy that powers the treatment process," Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway said in a statement. "Converting solid waste to clean energy is the next logical step. Any proposal will have to pass rigorous environmental and community scrutiny to move forward, and we hope that as many viable proposals as possible are submitted for consideration."

Any private sector that's interested in building and operating the facility must apply before June 5, 2012. City officials have said that if this initial facility is successful, the process will be expanded to handle twice as much trash each day.

Oregon’s ‘Electric Highway’ sets the pace for electric vehicle accommodation

America may be finally reaching the point where demand for battery-powered cars drives increased production of corresponding accommodations.

One of the primary issues surrounding electric cars is their inability to travel extended distances without recharging or using gasoline. Until more consumers buy electric vehicles, the availability of charging stations along main roads and highways will be limited. But, America may be finally reaching the point where demand for battery-powered cars drives increased production of corresponding accommodations.

A strong indication of this trend is highlighted by Oregon's efforts to make Interstate-5 more electric vehicle compliant. As the first major part of the West Coast "Electric Highway," a 160-mile stretch of road from the northern California border to Cottage Grove, Oregon now has eight electric car charging stations that can bring a vehicle's battery to a full charge in less than 30 minutes.

"As the first state in the nation to establish an [electric vehicle] charging infrastructure along a major interstate, Oregon is leading the [electric vehicle] pathway and supporting adoption of the next phase in the evolution of transportation," chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission and vice president of customer and community affairs for Pacific Power, Pat Egan, said in a statement.

"Once Oregon's segment of the West Coast Electric Highway is completed, [electric vehicle] drivers will be able to travel from Ashland to Portland at a fraction of the cost of filling a gas tank and with no direct emissions."

The Nissan Leaf, one of the more popular electric car models on the market, can travel about 70 highway miles before needing a charge, according to The Associated Press. If a Leaf is traveling down the Electric Highway, it will only require a recharge at every other station.

Art James, senior project executive with the Oregon Department of Transportation, said in a press release that electric cars are becoming more and more popular, and there will be a number of new vehicles that run on renewable energy hitting the roads this year.

Report: Scotland on pace for 100 percent reliance on renewable energy by 2020

The Scottish Government invested $29 million in wave and tidal power plants last November.

America isn't the only country with long-term renewable energy goals. While President Barack Obama set a goal of doubling the country's use of clean energy sources during his term, other nations have set their sights much higher.

Scotland's leaders, for instance, have said that it is aiming to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2020, and according to The Electricity Generation Policy Statement (EGPS) released by the Scottish Government, they are on track to meet their target.

In a statement, Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing addressed the doubt surrounding the seemingly outlandish goal, and what achieving it will entail. He assured skeptics, however, that he is prepared to take every measure possible to make sure that their objective is satisfied.

"We know our target is technically achievable. Scotland already leads the world in renewable energy, and we have the natural resources and the expertise to achieve so much more," Ewing said. "The prize at stake for the people of Scotland is huge, in terms of jobs, economic opportunities and lower electricity bills for all. I am determined to win that prize."

The four primarily principles of the EGPS are to find a secure electricity supply source, completely eliminate carbon emissions by 2030, make the new energy supply affordable for citizens, and to ultimately create "the greatest possible economic benefit and competitive advantage for Scotland."

Currently, a third of the country's electricity is produced by nuclear energy, but if Scotland meets its 2020 goal, the government predicted that nuclear energy reliance will subdue significantly, according to the Huffington Post.

Almost one fifth of the country's power comes from hydro and other renewable generation sources right now, and the government invested $29 million in wave and tidal power plants last November, the source reports.

Popularity and availability of fuel-efficient cars up in 2012

Drivers all over the world have been looking for green energy sources that are not only more cost effective.

According to AAA, the national average price per gallon of gasoline is currently $3.82, which is almost 30 cents higher than it was last year. The Associated Press predicts that the price of regular unleaded gas could surpass the all-time record of $4.11 that was set in July 2008.

As fuel costs have headed in the wrong direction for consumers in recent years, drivers all over the world have been looking for green energy sources that are not only more cost effective, they are also much friendlier to the environment. This year, it seems as though both the demand and availability of green vehicles are higher than they have ever been before.

"The American consumer shopping for a new car is seeing the most fuel-efficient lineup of vehicles ever," Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence at the auto shopping site TrueCar.com, told the news source.

There are a lot of new and innovative models of eco-friendly cars hitting the market in 2012. The new Toyota Prius c, for example, gets an estimated 50 miles per gallon, according to the media outlet. It's a bit pricey at around $19,000, so consumers looking to save money on a small green car may look at a Scion iQ, which gets 37 MPG and is was deemed the most fuel-efficient subcompact car by the Environmental Protection Agency.

While there aren't very many vehicle recharging stations along U.S. interstates, they are starting to pop up more frequently. Because of this – in addition to reports that electric car batteries can cause fires in an accident – consumers may shy away from ditching gasoline-powered vehicles for now. But, according to the AP, General Motors has been working to fix the battery in its Chevy Volt, and the Mitsubishi i – which gets a miles-per-gallon equivalent of 112, but is currently only available on the West Coast – is expected to be released throughout the country later in 2012.

Carbon emissions linked to increase in childhood asthma cases

The number of childhood asthma cases has doubled since 1980, and is the leading cause of school absenteeism.

One in 10 children currently have asthma in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's twice as many cases as there were in 1980, and since greenhouse gas emissions, one of the main causes of asthma, have only become increasingly present in the atmosphere, that number should come as no surprise.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, asthma is the most common chronic childhood condition and is the number one reason students miss school. The Huffington Post reports that soot, ozone and other air pollutants seem to be some of the primary contributors to the epidemic.

This year has been unique in that allergy season seems to have begun early, due to the extraordinarily warm temperatures much of the country has experienced. Dr. Christopher Codispoti, an asthma expert at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told the Huffington Post that there may be more severe asthma cases this year due to a prolonged allergy season and consequent high concentrations of allergens like pollen.

"Emotionally, this is very, very scary, and I know I'm not alone," said Lori Popkewitz Alper, mother of a 10-year-old asthma sufferer. "We stand at our children's beds at night and listen to them breathe. You realize that's the breath of life and how quickly that can change."

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working tirelessly to ensure that entities that are notorious for producing carbon emissions, such as coal-fired power plants and automobiles, are going green, but they've been struggling to get their initiatives passed by government officials.

Last December, Columbia University released a report about the EPA's new air quality regulations. The study showed that while implementing these initiatives would cost roughly $195 billion over the next 20 years, they would generate more than $1 trillion in economic, environmental and health benefits.

Globally recognized environmentalist fighting to protect Congo Basin

Marc Ona Essangui co-founded Brainforest to protect the natural resources of the Ivindo National Park in Gabon.

The media has played up the importance of protecting the rainforests, but many people may not be aware of the reasons why going green and spreading awareness to protect these concentrated areas of vegetation is so integral to caring for the globe's ecosystem. According to conservation organization Rainforest Concern, the Amazon rainforests alone are believed to contain half of the entire planet's rainwater and without that water cycle, there would be an increased frequency of droughts, famine and disease outbreak.

Rainforests contain half of the world's wildlife species and at least two-thirds of Earth's plant species, and according to the advocacy group, 25 percent of modern medicines are developed from tropical forest plants. Furthermore, scientists have only learned how utilize 1 percent of rainforest plants, so by tearing down these lush woodlands, excavators stand in the way of potentially world-changing scientific discoveries.

The Congo Basin rainforest, the world's second largest behind the Amazon, hosts a large supply of oil and rare minerals, and therefore, is a huge target for exploitation. That's why environmentalist Marc Ona Essangui co-founded a non-governmental organization called Brainforest to protect the natural resources of the Ivindo National Park in Gabon, a country that is 80 percent covered in rainforests, according to CNN.

"In the beginning, one of the objectives of the Brainforest was about conserving and protecting the Ivindo forest," Ona told the news source. "But today we have seen that it is also necessary to talk about the laws that govern forestry rights, looking at illegal activities in the forest, such as corruption and all that is related to forestry. We are looking at the rights of those living in the forest and defending and protecting their rights."

In 2009, Ona was internationally recognized for his work to save Ivindo National Park from a mining development when received the Goldman Prize, which the media outlet deemed to be the equivalent of a "Green Nobel" award.

Today, his organization still fights to conserve rainforests, while Ona, who was immobilized from polio at a young age, has also worked to improve the rights for the disabled.