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The eco guide to fairer phones | Lucy Siegle

Given the murky supply chains involved, is it possible to get a mobile phone that is conflict free?

The slick exterior of your smartphone gives few clues to the chaotic supply chains that make up its innards. Some 30 to 40 minerals make it tick, including tantalum, derived from the ore coltan, typically from Congolese mines. As the 2010 documentary Blood in the Mobile lays plain, our phones are inextricably linked to war in the DRC.

Our fate as bad consumers seemed sealed in 1997, when mining corporation America Mineral Fields signed an agreement with the Liberation of Congo Defence League to supply funds – which were ultimately used to buy weapons – in return for future mining rights. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Energy-efficient homes could worsen asthma, warns study

Lack of ventilation caused by better insulation could create spike in indoor pollutants, research warns

The number of Britons with asthma could almost double by 2050 because the air inside homes is becoming more polluted as they become more energy-efficient, a new report warns.

The trend towards airtight houses could also worsen allergies as well as breathing problems, and even exacerbate lung cancer and heart problems, according to a leading expert in indoor air quality.

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Source: Guardian Environment

The countryside still offers many joys even as autumn arrives

With summer officially ending on Wednesday, and reports last week of El Niño bringing wet winters to Britain, Tobias Jones celebrates the many ways in which rural life retains its magic – even as the days start to close in and the holiday visitors flee back to their cities

Autumn can be a grim time of year: a soggy, darkening season in which the languid pleasures of summer, and the celebrations and beauty of winter, seem very far away. It’s the time of year when we realise how far we’ve fallen short of the optimism and resolutions from the start of the year.

And yet, for those of us who live in the midst of nature, it is the most mellow and moving of all the seasons. The light is more nuanced, softer somehow. The uniform green of our community woodland has become a collage of russet and copper. The fringes of the magnificent beech tree in our central clearing go a little more yellow each day. The Virginia creepers blush red.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Francis is a shrewd reformer – and this US visit could define his papacy | Peter Stanford

The pope arrives in Washington this week on a landmark visit that, given his radical agenda, comes at a crucial moment for Catholicism

The one thing you could depend on when Pope John Paul II made one of his high-profile overseas trips was that he would hammer home in the most uncompromising terms Catholicism’s opposition to abortion. For the Polish pontiff, who died in 2005 and has now been declared a saint, abortion was murder, a stance which he presented as the keystone of all orthodoxy for Catholics.

This week his successor but one, the Argentinian Pope Francis, will be following in John Paul’s footsteps with his own first visit to the United States after spending the weekend in Cuba. Together, the two legs of the trip promise to be among the defining moments of what has already been an extraordinary two-and-a-half-year papacy.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Our seas are being degraded. Fish are dying, but human life is threatened too | Callum Roberts

A definitive study released last week found that the amount of wildlife in our oceans has fallen by half in 45 years. Academic and marine expert Callum Roberts says there is still time to reverse this decline by closing areas to fishing

Sardines were once extraordinarily abundant in the south-west of England, leading one 19th-century guidebook to say: “Pursued by predaceous hordes of dogfish, hake and cod, and greedy flocks of seabirds, they advance towards the land in such amazing numbers as actually to impede the passage of vessels and to discolour the sea as far as the eye can reach … Of a sudden they will vanish from view and then again approach the coast in such compact order and overwhelming force that numbers will be pushed ashore by the moving hosts in the rear. In 1836 a shoal extended in a compact body from Fowey to the Land’s End, a distance of at least 100 miles if we take into consideration the windings of the shore.” (Handbook for Travellers in Devon and Cornwall, John Murray and Thomas Clifton Paris, 1851).

Today people travel thousands of miles to dive and film such scenes, not realising they were once commonplace on our own coasts. Last week the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Zoological Society of London issued their most comprehensive look at the state of life in the sea. The report makes uncomfortable reading. Taking in more than 1,000 species worldwide and 5,000 populations of fish, turtles, marine mammals and a host of others, it draws the bleak conclusion that there is only half the amount of wildlife in the sea today as in 1970.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Let there be no complacency over fracking gas dangers | letters

Radon gas levels rise significantly when fracking takes place

I was very surprised to read such an experienced and successful businessman as Jim Ratcliffe of Ineos make such an ill-informed comment as: “In the US they have drilled a million wells and not had an environmental incident for six years.” (“‘Fracking can be done safely. A lot of opposition is based on hearsay’”, News.)

An article in the Washington Post on 10 April reported a new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspective which revealed a “disturbing correlation” between unusually high levels of radon gas in residences and fracking. The researchers found that in the same areas of Pennsylvania as the fracking operations there were generally higher readings of radon, with about 42% of the readings higher than what is considered safe by US federal standards. Moreover, the researchers discovered that radon levels spiked overall in 2004 at about the same time fracking activity began to pick up.

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Source: Guardian Environment

World's first smog filtering tower goes on tour

A seven metre tall tower designed by Daan Roosegaarde filters dirty air, releasing bubbles of smog free air. Does it detract from tackling causes of air pollution?

The Dutch city of Rotterdam has opened the world’s first smog-free tower.

Co-designed by Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde, the seven-metre high tower sucks in dirty air like a giant vacuum cleaner. Ion technology then filters it, before returning bubbles of smog-free air through the tower’s vents. It is able to clean 30,000 cubic metres of air an hour, according to Roosegaarde.

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Source: Guardian Environment

In north-west Pakistan, big cats are more feared than global terrorists

‘Man-eating leopards’ have been reported around Abbottabad – Osama bin Laden’s last redoubt – as wildlife officials struggle to reassure public

Osama bin Laden hid out here for months, if not years. But in the hills surrounding Abbottabad in north-western Pakistan, residents say they face a far scarier menace than terrorists.

With descriptive stories that bring to mind mythological tales of man against beast, Abbottabad residents claim to be locked in a terrifying battle against Pakistan’s endangered population of leopards. The big cats – referred to as common leopards to distinguish them from their smaller cousins, snow leopards – lurk in the Himalayan foothills.

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Source: Guardian Environment