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The Time Icelandic Environmentalists Teamed Up With Elves

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Jeroen, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

According to a 1998 survey, 54.4 percent of Icelanders believe in elves. Also known as the "Huldufolk" or "hidden people," elf mythology dates back centuries, and is seen as an important part of Iceland’s cultural heritage. So, in 2014, when a group of Icelandic environmental activists began protesting a planned road development on the basis that it would disrupt an elf village, their complaints were taken seriously. 

According to The Independent, environmentalists claimed the proposed road would not only pass through an invisible elf community, but cut through previously protected lava fields, disturbing several animal nesting sites. Joining forces with a group of elf believers and calling themselves “Friends of the Lava,” the environmentalists protested the development on both environmental and mystical grounds.   

They were led by Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir, an environmentalist and elf seer who operates an Elf Garden near Reykjavík. According to The Atlantic, Jónsdóttir investigated the site of the proposed road and, after thoroughly exploring the area, provided testimony that "a very important elf church" atop a large rock would be destroyed if the road were built. Though elves are invisible to most people, Jónsdóttir claims to be able to communicate with them, and conveyed their displeasure with the road plan to the press. The elves, speaking through Jónsdóttir, also made it clear that this was an environmental issue: Jónsdóttir explained that while elves are able to move their homes (albeit often reluctantly), they refuse to do so for what they see as unworthy causes.

The government swiftly responded, putting the road project on hold until the case could be fully resolved. Over the course of 2014, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who ultimately ruled against the "Friends of the Lava," but made one concession to their cause: the specific rock on which the "elf church" was located would be relocated to a safe place. 

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Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Grass-Fed Beef Is Actually Worse for the Planet, Report Finds
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There are plenty of reasons to reject factory farming, but in the case of beef, your carbon footprint shouldn’t be one of them. According to EcoWatch, new research shows that grazed cattle provide an outsized contribution to greenhouse gasses, as opposed to cattle kept largely indoors and fed on grain.

The report [PDF], released by Oxford’s Food Climate Research Network, aims to provide definitive answers to what has been a heavily debated topic in environmental circles. Some research has found that grazing cattle actually reduces the carbon footprints of beef operations, because all that pasture stores carbon and prevents it from being released into the atmosphere, and because all that chomping stimulates new vegetation growth. Other research has found that the benefits aren’t as great as the grass-fed boosters estimate—especially since the fields of grain used to grow cattle feed for factory farms sequester carbon, too.

The new Oxford research comes down firmly on the side of the latter camp. It finds that while grass-fed operations can help sequester carbon, it’s “only under very specific conditions,” in part since the definition of what a grassland is can vary wildly. There are natural ranges dominated by wild vegetation, there are pastures that are actively maintained and managed by farmers, and there is land that lies somewhere in between. Overgrazing, trampling, and soil conditions can all negatively impact how much carbon the grasses can sequester. And even under the best conditions, the gains can be short-lived. “This sequestering of carbon is even then small, time-limited, reversible, and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions these grazing animals generate,” according to FCRN.

And it seems that even if the vegetation does sequester carbon, grass-fed beef is still an outsized source of greenhouse gasses.

To begin with, all cattle are a huge drain on the environment, no matter how you feed them. The report estimates that the livestock supply chain generates around 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle create 65 percent of those livestock emissions. But even compared to cattle in general, grass-fed animals are heavy polluters. Within the global protein supply, grass-fed beef makes up around 1 gram of protein per person, per day, compared to 13 grams from all ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, etc.). But these grazed cattle generate up to a third of all global greenhouse emissions from ruminants. In other words, grass-eating cattle create an outsized cost—emissions-wise—compared to the meat they provide.

And the carbon sequestration doesn't help enough to offset that. The report estimates that the carbon sequestration that might occur from grazing practices would only offset emissions by 20 percent.

There are other reasons to buy grass-fed beef, of course, whether it’s about ethical concerns with factory farming or just a taste preference. But if you’re going to choose grass-fed, your reason shouldn’t be concern for the environment.

[h/t EcoWatch]

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