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Seeing Trees Can Make You Feel Healthier

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Living in a green neighborhood is good for your health. Trees and other urban plants remove pollutants from the atmosphere, reduce stress, and support better overall mental health. In fact, being around more trees can make you feel as healthy as someone seven years younger, according to a 2015 study in the Nature journal Scientific Reports. 

Psychologists compared data about differences in street tree coverage across Toronto with how healthy people felt, according to a survey called the Ontario Health Study. The long-term study included self-reported data from more than 30,000 individuals, which the researchers used to determine how people perceived their health. 

People who lived in neighborhoods with a higher density of street trees (not just parks) reported feeling healthier than people who lived in areas with fewer trees. In terms of how people viewed their health, living on a block with 10 more trees was the equivalent of earning $10,200 more a year, or being seven years younger. 

While these findings only applied to how people felt about their health, not how healthy they actually were, people living near more street trees also reported fewer cardiac conditions like high cholesterol or heart disease. A 10-tree per block increase across Toronto would only require about a 4 percent more trees total in the city. 

Because Canada has a universal health care system, the same results might not hold true in countries like the U.S., where the private system means that health care access can vary dramatically based on income and place of residence. But all other factors being equal, it appears we have yet another reason to love trees

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Bolt Threads
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environment
Your Next Favorite Handbag Could be Made of Mushroom Leather
Bolt Threads
Bolt Threads

From the makers of imitation spider silk comes a new eco-friendly material: mushroom leather. Invented by Bolt Threads, the material is called Mylo—short for mycelium, the fungi filaments that are used to create the leather.

Not only does it look like real leather, but it feels like it too, according to the California-based company. For the past nine years, Bolt Threads has been using biotechnology to take materials found in nature and transform them into never-before-seen textiles. As the company prefers to put it: “Animal leather is so 1st century.”

Bolt Threads partnered with biomaterials company Ecovative to license the technology. Mycelium cells are grown in a lab, and different variables like temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels are controlled to create a large fibrous network that looks a lot like leather, Fast Company reports.

“We cut it into slices, and it goes through a process not dissimilar to how animal hides are tanned to become leather, except it’s more environmentally friendly,” Dan Widmaier, founder and CEO of Bolt Threads, explained.

By tweaking the growth process, they can change the strength, durability, and suppleness of the leather.

While mushroom leather might not sound like the most luxurious material, the company has found an unlikely ally in the fashion industry. English designer Stella McCartney, daughter of Paul McCartney, crafted a handbag out of Mylo that has been dubbed the Falabella Prototype One. It’s currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which is also showcasing bags that McCartney created for Paris Fashion Week using Microsilk, Bolt Threads’s imitation spider silk material. In an effort to reduce the consumption of real silk, which typically involves the killing of silkworms, McCartney even created a spider silk dress.

Mylo's introduction comes at a time when many haute couture labels are looking to market their products as sustainable. Gucci has been fur-free since last year and it also launched a line of sunglasses made from a biodegradable material. Across the industry, many other luxury labels have opted for alternate, eco-friendly materials. (Pineapple "leather" has been around for a couple of years now.)

Bolt Threads will also be releasing its own Mylo handbag, for which a limited-edition pre-sale will begin in June.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated
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History
A Founder of Earth Day Looks Back on How It Began
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated

On the very first Earth Day in 1970, Denis Hayes stood on a stage in Central Park, stunned by the number of people who'd come to honor the planet. Now in his 70s, Hayes remembers it was like looking at the ocean—“you couldn’t see where the sea of people ended.” Crowd estimates reached more than a million people.

For Hayes, who is now board chair of the international Earth Day Network, it was the culmination of a year’s worth of work. As an urban ecology graduate student at Harvard University, he’d volunteered to help organize a small initiative by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was horrified by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and wanted to raise awareness about environmental issues by holding teaching events similar to those being held by civil rights and anti-war activists.

Senator Nelson saw a growing disconnect between the concept of progress and the idea of American well-being, Hayes tells Mental Floss. “There was a sense that America was prosperous and getting better, but at the same time, the air in the country was similar to the air today in China, Mexico City, or New Delhi," Hayes says. "Rivers were catching on fire. Lakes were unswimmable.”

Nelson's plan for these environmental teach-ins was for speakers to educate college students about environmental issues. But he had no one to organize them. So Hayes, Nelson’s sole volunteer, took control on a national level, organizing teach-ins at Harvard first and then across the U.S. Initially, the response was tepid at best. “Rather rapidly it became clear that this wasn’t a hot issue at colleges and universities in 1969,” Hayes says. “We had a war raging, and civil rights were getting very emotional after the Nixon election.”

Still, both Hayes and Nelson noticed an influx of mail to the senator's office from women with young families worried about the environment. So instead of focusing on colleges, the two decided to take a different tactic, creating events with community-based organizations across the country, Hayes says. They also decided that rather than a series of teach-ins, they'd hold a single, nationwide teach-in on the same day. They called it Earth Day, and set a date: April 22.

Hayes now had a team of young adults working for the cause, and he himself had dropped out of school to tackle it full time. Long before social media, the project began to spread virally. “It just resonated,” he says. Women and smaller environmental-advocacy groups really hooked onto the idea, and word spread by mouth and by information passing between members of the groups.

Courtesy of Denis Hayes

With the cooperation and participation of grassroots groups and volunteers across the country, and a few lawmakers who supported the initiative, Hayes’ efforts culminated in the event on April 22, 1970.

Hayes started the day in Washington, D.C., where he and the staff were based. There was a rally and protest on the National Mall, though by that point Hayes had flown to New York, where Mayor John Lindsay provided a stage in Central Park. Parts of Fifth Avenue were shut down for the events, which included Earth-oriented celebrations, protests, and speeches by celebrities. Some of those attending the event even attacked nearby cars for causing pollution. After the rally, Hayes flew to Chicago for a smaller event.

“We had a sense that it was going to be big, but when the day actually dawned, the crowds were so much bigger than anyone had experienced before,” Hayes said. The event drew grassroots activists working on a variety of issues—Agent Orange, lead paint in poor urban neighborhoods, saving the whales—and fostered a sense of unity among them.

“There were people worrying about these [environmental] issues before Earth Day, but they didn’t think they had anything in common with one another," Hayes says. "We took all those individual strands and wove them together into the fabric of modern environmentalism.”

Hayes and his team spent the summer getting tear-gassed at protests against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Nixon authorized just six days after Earth Day. But by fall, the team refocused on environmental issues—and elections. They targeted a “dirty dozen” members of Congress up for re-election who had terrible environmental records, and campaigned for candidates who championed environmental causes to run against them. They defeated seven out of 12.

“It was a very poorly funded but high-energy campaign,” Hayes says. “That sent the message to Congress that it wasn’t just a bunch of people out frolicking in the sunshine planting daisies and picking up litter. This actually had political chops.”

The early '70s became a golden age for environmental issues; momentum from the Earth Day movement spawned the creation of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Environmental Education Act (which was initially passed in 1970 and revived in 1990), and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We completely changed the framework within which America does business, more than any other period in history with the possible exception of the New Deal,” Hayes says. “But our little revolution was brought entirely from the grassroots up.”

In 1990, Hayes was at it again. He organized the first international Earth Day, with about 200 million participants across more than 140 countries. Since then it’s become a global phenomenon.

Despite its popularity, though, we still have a long way to go, even if the improvements Hayes fought for have made these issues feel more remote. Hayes noted that everything they were fighting in the '70s was something tangible—something you could see, taste, smell, or touch. Climate change can seem much less real—and harder to combat—to the average person who isn’t yet faced with its effects.

Hayes also notes that people have become more skeptical of science. “Historically, that has not been a problem in the United States. But today science is under attack.”

He warns, “This [anti-science sentiment] is something that could impoverish the next 50 generations and create really long-term devastation—that harms not only American health, but also American business, American labor, and American prospects.”

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