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How to mix style and sustainability

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By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor

As a relatively tiny human, I have spent most of my adult life in some variation on heels or platform shoes, and I enjoy finding unusual styles that add a pop of texture or color to my day. Ever since I married a vegetarian, I’ve put more thought into what my shoes are made of, and I usually opt for so-called vegan leather. What I didn’t think about as closely is what that actually means. Today, almost all products sold as vegan leather are made of a material called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is a form of plastic.

As our Alejandra Borunda reports, shoes of all stripes are overwhelmingly made of various plastic materials, and they are almost impossible to recycle because they are stitched and glued together in complicated ways. That means when a heel inevitably snaps or a sole wears thin, my shoes become prime contributors to the world’s lingering plastic trash burden. Fortunately, as with other plastic products, from car tires to medical pouches, there are alternatives coming to market that make it a bit easier to be green with style.

Natural cloth is making a comeback in some athletic shoes, and according to Reuters, a textile made from pineapple leaves may be the next hot trend in vegan leather. Still, the best answer is probably the simplest: Buy fewer shoes. That’s why some companies are looking to craft modern footwear that’s easier to repair rather than replace. Guess I better go find a good cobbler.

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Exlcusive poll: When did enviro-friendly straws become the enemy?

Despite many Americans saying they currently use or would consider using reusable straws, about a third of Americans oppose bans on single-use plastic, including bans on single-use plastic straws (32 percent), according to a National Geographic/Morning Consult poll of 2,200 adults.

The issue has received considerable political attention in recent months. Digging deeper into the results shows that 72 percent of respondents either use reusable straws now or would consider using them. As with many environmental polls, higher income and urban respondents more strongly supported the issue. (Here’s the methodology.)

Related: How you can turn the tide on plastic.

Today in a minute

Air-conditioning the outdoors: It’s happening in Qatar, where temperatures are among the fastest rising on Earth, aside from the Arctic. Artificially cooled during blistering summers: sidewalks, outdoor markets, and a new soccer stadium built for the 2022 World Cup. “If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively,” Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organization for Research and Development, tells the Washington Post.

First conga line? That would be about half a billion years ago, when animals started to coordinate their movements on the seafloor, writes National Geographic's Michael Greshko. Fossils show that trilobites, which were blind, moved in unison in lines. “It shows that collective behavior is not a new evolutionary innovation that appeared a couple of million years ago,” Jean Vannier, a paleontologist at the University of Lyon, told Greshko.

Calling citizen divers: Two-thirds of the reefs comprising Australia's troubled Great Barrier Reef are unmapped. A new group is enlisting citizens to help survey the entire 1,400-mile-long reef system in 2020, Smithsonian reports. “We want the citizens to be helpful from a science perspective—but we also want people to [care],” says Andy Ridley, the group's founder. “The world’s not moving fast enough toward net-zero emissions. Can the Great Barrier Reef be a point of inspiration, rather than a point of doom? I don’t know. But we’re giving it a bloody shot.”

Red tide: An algae bloom off southwest Florida is killing larger marine animals, including eight sea turtles found off two beaches last week. The toll included one loggerhead and seven Kemp's ridley turtles, the Fort Myers News Press reported.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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It looks beautiful at first, and then you realize: You are staring at an ecological disaster. The small research vessel is cutting through an algae bloom on Lake Erie that extends far beyond the frame of this image. Read more from Keith Ladzinski on our Instagram page.

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Overheard at National Geographic

Smurfs and death stars. That’s what Penny Boston called the microbial organisms she recovered from a wondrous, crystal-laden cave deep beneath the earth’s surface. Wearing a shocking orange, ice-cooled suit in the 140-degree cave, Boston, now director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, carried out the rock-eating life forms she thinks will be akin to the first discoveries of life beyond earth. “They’re so cute!” she tells National Geographic’s Peter Gwinon our podcast, Overheard. If you don't already subscribe, download it now.

This week in the night sky

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Get the year’s best view of the distant ice giant Uranus on Sunday night, as the outer planet lies opposite the sun in our sky. This means it is the biggest and brightest in our skies and visible all night long. The magnitude-5.7 planet lies in the southern constellation of Aries, and the green-blue disk is just visible with the naked eye under dark skies. For a bonus sky-watching challenge, look for the razor-thin crescent moon “close” to Venus about half an hour after sunset on Tuesday, very low in the southwest. —Andrew Fazekas.

The big takeaway

Earth first: What’s the biggest change that needs to happen for women in the next decade? ToKristine McDivitt Tompkins, former CEO of Patagonia Inc. and head of Tompkins Conservancy, the answer is clear: “There will be no healthy women on a dead planet,” Tompkins says in our new book, Women: The National Geographic Image Collection. “So to have true rights and equality for women, there has to be an ecological balance for all humans."

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Tomorrow, Rachael Bale describes the danger and fear elephants have sown in Botswana, so much so that it's an issue in today's elections. If you’re not a daily subscriber, sign up here.

One last glimpse

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Little things, big pictures: This portrait of a embryonic turtle was taken from hundreds of stacked and stitched together images—and became a winner of Nikon’s Small World 2019 contest for microscopic images. Says Teresa Kugler, who helped produce this image: “Microscopy lets us zoom in on the smallest organisms and building blocks that comprise our world—giving us a profound appreciation for the small things in life that far too often go unnoticed.” See more winning photos here.

This newsletter has been curated by David Beard. Have an idea or a link for us? We’d love to hear from you at justwondering@natgeo.com.