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China Is Now Home to a Panda-Shaped Solar Farm

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China is famous for its pandas, and infamous for its pollution. To celebrate the country’s national animal while also combating greenhouse gas emissions, Business Insider reports that a solar power plant investor and operator has unveiled a brand-new panda-shaped plant in Datong, China.

A panda-shaped solar farm in China, built by company Panda Green Energy
Panda Green Energy

China Merchants New Energy Group (CMNE) teamed up with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to plan the 248-acre farm, which was built by Panda Green Energy Group, a global eco-development solutions provider that’s partly owned by CMNE. Their solar-panel bear is enormous, but it's only the first stage of construction for the new Panda Power Plant.

The plant currently contains one 50-megawatt plant. Later in 2017, CMNE plans to construct a second solar panda. When fully connected, the Panda Power Plant will measure 1500 acres and have a capacity of 100 megawatts. In the next 25 years, CMNE claims, the Panda Power Plant will produce 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours of solar energy, thus reducing China’s dependence on coal and carbon emissions by 2.74 million tons.

A panda-shaped solar farm in China, built by company Panda Green Energy
Panda Green Energy

As for the pandas themselves, Mashable reports that their black-and-white features are rendered using two types of solar panels: white thin film photovoltaic (PV) cells and black monocrystalline silicon PV cells. The whimsical designs are intended to promote awareness about clean energy among young people.

“Designing the plant in the shape of a panda could inspire young people and get them interest in the applications of solar power,” Panda Green Energy’s CEO, Li Yuan, said in May 2016.

Chinese youth will be recruited to attend summer camps at the Panda Power Plant to learn more about green energy production. Panda Green Energy also plans to construct panda-themed power stations in Fiji and the Philippines, with the goal of constructing 100 panda plants around the world over the next five years.

"I believe that the panda solar power plants will become a tourist hotspot, and in future we'll export these panda power plants to other parts of the world," Yuan said.

[h/t Business Insider]

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environment
Great Britain's Last Snow Patch Is About to Disappear Completely for the First Time in a Decade

Until recently, it was easy to find snow in Great Britain at any time of the year—you just had to know where to look. In previous Septembers, the island has been home to as many as 678 snow patches, residual pockets of snow and ice whose climates and topographies keep them frozen through the summer. This year, though, only two of Britain's snow patches have survived the summer. And the island is now on track to be completely snowless by the end of the season, Atlas Obscura reports.

Snow patches vary in size and durability, with some melting completely by late summer and others remaining a permanent fixture of the landscape. Garbh Choire Mor—a steep glacial depression on top of Scotland's third-highest mountain, Braeriach—contains two of the oldest snow patches in Britain, known as the Pinnacles and the Sphinx. The Pinnacles snow patch dissolved into a puddle earlier this month, and the Sphinx snow patch, the last surviving snow patch in Great Britain, is expected to do the same in the next few days.

Scotland experienced uncharacteristically hot weather this summer, with temperatures creeping into the low 90s as early as May. But more significant than the sweltering summer was the dry winter that preceded it. Below-average snowfall last year meant this year's snow patches were already smaller than usual when temperatures started heating up. If the Sphinx snow patch does vanish before winter arrives, it will mark the first time in over a decade and just the sixth time in the last 300 years that England, Scotland, and Wales are without a single patch of snow.

The Sphinx snow patch, though currently a measly version of its previous self, is still visible for now. But Iain Cameron, a veteran "snow patcher" who writes an annual report on snow for the UK's Royal Meteorological Society, says it could be gone as soon as Wednesday, September 20.

He's currently camped out on Garbh Choire Mor, waiting to document the patch's final moments. You can follow his updates on Twitter.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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