Good News: Being Lazy Can Be Good for the Environment

iStock
iStock

You may feel bad about the days when you never leave the couch, but there is an upside to working remotely, watching Netflix, ordering food and consumer goods online, and lying around your house scrolling through Facebook. A new study in the journal Joule, spotted by Fast Company, finds that as technology allows people to spend more time at home, it's reducing American energy usage.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin examined data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual American Time Use Survey, finding that between 2003 and 2012, people spent more time at home and less time traveling to and from stores and work. According to this data, Americans in 2012 spent a total of 7.8 more days at home than in 2003 and 1.2 fewer days traveling. That means they weren't getting in their cars and burning up fossil fuels to drive around town. And, if fewer people are working in offices overall, presumably those buildings require less energy to run (for example, they don't need as much power for lights or air conditioning). In total, the researchers estimate that Americans used 1.8 percent less energy as a nation because of this home-bound change in lifestyle.

Considering that these metrics are from 2012, it's likely that people are spending even less time traveling outside their houses these days. U.S. government data show that e-commerce has been a steadily growing portion of total retail sales for a decade.

There's reason to resist becoming a total hermit, though—and it's not just the need for Vitamin D or exercise. There are aspects of staying home that aren't quite so carbon-friendly—ones that aren't fully addressed in this study. You may be staying off the road, but the trucks delivering your groceries and goods aren't, and they require fossil fuel. Cities are currently overwhelmed with delivery trucks ferrying packages from Amazon, Peapod, Postmates, and all the other online services that people can now use as their go-to shopping destinations. The massive upsurge in people getting groceries, office supplies, home goods, clothing, and just about anything else delivered to their homes has led to an increase in freight traffic, because trucks still have to be deployed to get those packages to front doors. (At least until drone delivery takes off.)

Staying at home and watching a movie on Netflix instead of going out to the movies saves energy, but having your toilet paper sent to your home still requires some gas. Time will tell whether shipping services dropping off purchases, versus people going out shopping, significantly reduces carbon usage. One study found that results depend on whether the shopper lives in a suburban or urban environment, among other issues [PDF]. So enjoy your Netflix night, but don't get too smug about your Amazon purchases just yet.

[h/t Fast Company]

New Study Reveals 'Hyper-Alarming' Decline of Rainforest Insect Populations

iStock/jmmf
iStock/jmmf

Climate change is decimating yet another vital part of the world's ecosystem, according to a startling new paper. Rainforest insects are dying off at alarming rates, according to a new study spotted by the The Washington Post. In turn, the animals that feed off those insects are decreasing, too.

In the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a pair of scientists from the Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York and the National Autonomous University of Mexico studied populations of rainforest arthropods (an invertebrate classification that includes insects and spiders) in the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. They compared the number of insects lead author Bradford Lister found on trips in 1976 and 1977 with the number he and co-author Andres Garcia found on trips they took between 2011 and 2013.

Lister and Garcia used nets and sticky traps to collect insects on the ground and several feet above the ground in the forest canopy. They dried these captured bugs and measured the mass of their haul against the mass of insects found in the 1970s, finding that the modern net sweeps captured only an eighth to a fourth of the insects captured in the '70s. The mass of insects captured by sticky traps on the ground declined by 30 to 60 times what they were a few decades ago. They also tracked populations of lizards, frogs, and birds that live off those rainforest insects, finding that those populations had declined significantly, too, at levels not seen in other rainforest animals that don't rely on insects for food.

Tropical insects are particularly vulnerable to climatic changes, since they can't regulate their body temperature. During the time of the study, average maximum temperatures in El Yunque rose by almost 4°F (2°C). The warming climate is "the major driver" of this decline in arthropod populations, the study authors write, triggering a collapse of the forest food chain.

The paper has other scientists worried. "This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read," University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who wasn't involved in the research, told The Washington Post, calling the results "hyper-alarming." Other studies of insect populations have found similarly dire results, including significant declines in butterflies, moths, bees, and other species. One recent study found that Germany's flying insect populations had decreased by as much as 75 percent in the last three decades. Scientists don't always attribute those population losses directly to warmer temperatures (habitat loss, pesticide use, droughts, and other factors might play a role), but it’s clear that insect populations are facing grave threats from the modern world.

Not all insect species will be equally affected by climate change, though. While we may see a sharp drop in the populations of tropical insects, scientists project that the number of insects in other regions will rise—leading to a sharp increase in crop-eating pests in some parts of the world and broadening mosquitos' geographical range.

[h/t The Washington Post]

Florida Waffle House Is Giving Away Free Food to Hurricane Michael Victims

Barry Williams/Getty Images
Barry Williams/Getty Images

If your community has been hit by a hurricane and you want an idea of how it's coping, check your local Waffle House. The southern chain is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and only closes under extreme circumstances. The restaurant so rarely pauses its operations that FEMA has been using something called the Waffle House Index to gauge the severity of natural disasters since 2004. Now a Waffle House in Panama City, Florida, has shown that even a Category 4 storm isn't enough to shut it down for good.

After closing due to Hurricane Michael earlier in October, the Florida Waffle House set up a food truck in its parking lot to hand out free food to community members, ABC 7 reports. "We are giving out free food curbside until 6pm. #ScatteredSmotheredandRecover," the chain tweeted on Monday, October 15, along with a picture of its truck parked beneath a beat-up sign. Waffle House later tweeted that the truck would return to the same spot at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 16.

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle on October 10 and swept through the southern U.S., killing at least 19 people and leaving thousands without power. The Gulf Coast received the brunt of the storm, but Waffle House has reported that, along with its Panama City location, the Lynn Haven, Florida, restaurant is running on a generator and back open for business.

[h/t ABC 7]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER