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Photo: Murdo MacLeod/Guardian 
Helped by volunteers, Trees for Life planted nearly 2 million native trees on its Scottish projects.

Sometimes a tree has to be cut down because it’s rotting. But if it’s your tree, you can offset the loss for the planet by donating to an organization that plants lots of trees. Planting a lot of trees is important because it takes a long time before a bunch of little trees has the climate-saving benefits of one big tree.

I gave to the the Arbor Day Foundation last year after sadly saying good-bye to an old, old maple. Then the New York Times suggested Eden Reforestration Projects, which sounded excellent. The Times also provided names of organizations working on other climate-saving activities, including the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and a group providing fuel-efficient stoves in Kenya.

Patrick Barkham, reporting for the Guardian from Scotland, shows what can be done with a dedicated group of volunteers.

“The bracken-clad hills are marked ‘Dundreggan forest’ on the map but this Scottish glen is mostly stark Highland scenery: open, beautiful, and almost totally devoid of trees.

“On a steep-sided little gully, 40 years ago, a few baby silver birches escaped relentless browsing by red deer and grew tall. Now, the nearby path through the bracken is dusted with thousands of brown specks: birch seeds.

‘Each year, this “forest” produces trillions of birch seed,’ says Doug Gilbert, the operations manager for the charity Trees for Life at Dundreggan. ‘Until we reduce the deer pressure, not a single one has grown into a tree. Once we get the deer population right, this forest will absolutely take off. It’s starting to do that now.’

“The charity purchased the Dundreggan hunting estate 11 years ago. Slowly – ‘at tree speed,’ smiles Gilbert – it is rewilding 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of this degraded Highland landscape, restoring a diversity of native trees, scrub and associated life, from the dark bordered beauty moth to black grouse and, yes, red deer. …

“During the general election campaign, politicians desperately tried to outbid each other with tree-planting pledges. Who doesn’t love a tree? More trees can tackle the climate crisis – absorbing carbon dioxide – and the biodiversity crisis. But Trees for Life’s efforts reveal it is not quite so simple.

“Since Victorian times, when the sheep estates that followed the Highland clearances were replaced by more lucrative deer hunting estates, the landscape, and economic model, has been shaped by red deer. Around Dundreggan there are also non-native sika and roe deer. …

“The first step at Dundreggan has been to increase deer culling. Ecologists calculate that a red deer population of five per sq km in the wider landscape will allow natural regeneration; in many Highland regions it is 20. But culling deer is controversial because the value of stalking that estates base on deer numbers.

“Trees for Life has proceeded slowly with culling, seeking positive dialogue with neighbouring stalking estates. They’ve also tried non-lethal methods such as bagpipe-playing volunteers acting as nocturnal deer scarers. Trees and deer can coexist and Dundreggan’s deer population is now at a level where some young birches, pines, rowans and junipers will grow tall. …

“All the trees come from Scottish seeds – meaning they are suited to Highland climates and species, as well as being free of novel diseases. Half have been grown from seeds collected around Dundreggan. Its on-site nursery bristles with 94,000 saplings.

“Seed-collecting is not as simple as it sounds. Seed must come from a wide variety of individual trees to ensure genetic diversity. Cones from Scots pines have to be harvested before they drop to the ground, so specialist tree-climbers are employed. Trees for Life specialises in growing non-commercial high-mountain species such as woolly willow and dwarf birch. Surviving specimens are often only found on cliffs and crevices – with seeds or cuttings only retrievable by specialist climbers.

“Because of the deer grazing, every sapling is planted within a fenced enclosure (costing £10 [$12.79] per metre). Fencing is ‘a little bit of an admission of failure,’ says Gilbert. In the long term, when reducing deer numbers becomes less controversial, trees won’t need fences. Gilbert hopes the fences will last 30 years, when the well-established trees and scrub will survive browsing deer.” More.

(By the way, does anyone remember deer stalking in the children’s classic Wee Gillis?)

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Photo: Smithsonian
A surfeit of carbon in the oceans is destroying coral reefs, home to a wide variety of marine life. But a few reefs may offer lessons for survival.

Earlier this month, I posted about an improbably successful coral reef in the busy harbor of Cartagena in South America. Scientists were thinking that if they could figure out why the reef was doing well despite inimical conditions, they might be able to save other reefs.

Now comes a story about scientists finding hopeful reefs in the Pacific Ocean and elsewhere.

Josh Gabbatiss reports at the UK’s Independent, “Sections of coral in the Pacific and the Caribbean are fighting back against the global threats that have decimated reefs worldwide. While the discovery does not allow any room for complacency in the fight to save the world’s reefs from extinction, scientists are tentatively optimistic about what they can learn from these pockets of resistance.

“Climate change, hurricanes and human activities such as intensive fishing have destroyed vast swathes of the planet’s reefs, but in a new study scientists found this destruction was not uniform. …

” ‘There are a number of reasons why one coral reef might survive while its neighbour dies,’ said Dr James Guest, a coral reef researcher at Newcastle University who led the study. ‘It could be that the location is simply better for survival – deeper water that is outside the storm tracks, for example.’

“Coral reefs might also possess certain biological characteristics that make them able to resist damage, or characteristics of their environment may allow them to rebuild themselves effectively following damage. …

“These findings were laid out in a study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology that explored dozens of these cases from tropical regions around the world. …

“The study’s lead author, Professor Peter Edmunds from California State University, Northridge, [says], ‘There are kernels of hope in places where corals are doing better, or where they are doing less badly than elsewhere and these places provide us with a focus of attention that might be used to enhance coral conservation efforts.’ …

“Scientists have voiced the need for ‘radical interventions’ such as genetic modification of corals.”

OK, I’ll let you read the rest at the Independent while I ponder the metaphors here.

Since my sister’s surgery and her diagnosis of a serious kind of cancer, I feel like I’m living in metaphor, by which I mean a couple things. For example, I can’t read about certain reefs that heal themselves because they have unique characteristics (or about scientists racing the clock to figure out how to replicate that) without thinking about how every cancer and every patient’s response to cancer is different and how researchers and physicians are trying to understand all the ways that plays out (sometimes using genetics, like the coral researchers). I also mean that literary metaphor, especially poetry, is among the few things that can help me get my head around what is going on. When you can’t understand, metaphor can be calming and provide a sense that eventually there might be answers.

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Image: Reuters/Denis Balibouse
The World Economic Forum touts research suggesting that “forest bathing,” the act of being among the trees, has health benefits.

We love trees. John, for example, serves on the Arlington tree committee and helps with the town’s efforts to inventory its trees, acquire more sidewalk plantings, and assist researchers studying the role of urban trees in carbon reduction.

A master landscaper I know is also into trees. He shared this story about the health benefits of something the Japanese call “forest bathing.”

Ephrat Livini wrote at the World Economic Forum, “Now there’s scientific evidence supporting eco-therapy. The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being.

“Forest bathing — basically just being in the presence of trees—became part of a national public health program in Japan in 1982 when the forestry ministry coined the phrase shinrin-yoku and promoted topiary as therapy. …

“Forest air doesn’t just feel fresher and better — inhaling phytoncide seems to actually improve immune system function. …

“From 2004 to 2012, Japanese officials spent about $4 million dollars studying the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing, designating 48 therapy trails based on the results. Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, measured the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system before and after exposure to the woods. These cells provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention. In a 2009 study Li’s subjects showed significant increases in NK cell activity in the week after a forest visit, and positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods. …

“Experiments on forest bathing conducted by the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences in Japan’s Chiba University measured its physiological effects on 280 subjects in their early 20s. The team measured the subjects’ salivary cortisol (which increases with stress), blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability during a day in the city and compared those to the same biometrics taken during a day with a 30-minute forest visit. …

“Trees soothe the spirit too. A study on forest bathing’s psychological effects surveyed 498 healthy volunteers, twice in a forest and twice in control environments. The subjects showed significantly reduced hostility and depression scores, coupled with increased liveliness, after exposure to trees. …

“City dwellers can benefit from the effects of trees with just a visit to the park. Brief exposure to greenery in urban environments can relieve stress levels.”

More here. Be sure to watch the video.

Hat tip: Paul Kelly on Facebook.

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My husband is from Philadelphia and remembers hearing popular lines from a motivational speech in that city, about finding “acres of diamonds” in your own backyard.

“Today, Russell Conwell is best remembered as the founder and first president of Temple University,” says Vimeo. “But in his lifetime, Conwell had a very different claim to fame — that of popular orator.” (A Vimeo video “explores the history of Conwell’s most famous speech, ‘Acres of Diamonds,’ an inspirational message he delivered, by his own estimate, 6,100 times.”)

“Acres of Diamonds” was the first thing I thought of when Kai posted on Facebook about an initiative to turn China’s out-of-control air pollution into diamonds.

Rachel Hallett at the World Economic Forum wrote, “Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde has come up with an innovative plan to tackle Beijing’s air pollution problem – and in doing so, turn a health hazard into a thing of beauty.

“After a pilot in Rotterdam, the Smog Free Project is coming to China. The project consists of two parts. First, a 7m tall tower sucks up polluted air, and cleans it at a nano-level. Second, the carbon from smog particles is turned into diamonds. Yes, diamonds. …

“Roosegaarde explained … ‘We’ve created environments that none of us want,’ he said. ‘Where children have to stay inside, and where the air around us is a health hazard.’

“The towers suck up polluted air, and clean it, releasing it back into parks and playgrounds. And according to Roosegaarde, these areas are 70-75% cleaner than the rest of the city. …

“The other aspect of the project will see the captured smog transformed into diamonds. 32% of Beijing’s smog is carbon, which under 30 minutes of pressure can be turned into diamonds.”

Can such wonders be? Read more here.

Photo: AP
Smog in Beijing will be turned into diamonds.

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I’ve been learning a lot lately from reading ecoRI’s Tim Faulkner. Recently he wrote about entrepreneurial approaches to taking carbon out of the atmosphere. He notes that one of the more ironic opportunities, according to Thorne Sparkman of investor Slater Technology Fund, is through the oil and gas industry, which uses CO2 in extraction and now can at least bury it instead of releasing it.

“Finding ways of supplying some [CO2] from existing carbon sources is a one of the main markets in the emerging, and broadly defined, field of carbon capture and storage (CCS),” writes Faulkner.

“ ‘CO2 is everywhere, but it has not really been harnessed,’ said Emily Cole, co-founder of Liquid Light, a New Jersey-based startup that wants to reduce greenhouse gasses by transforming carbon dioxide into industrial chemicals. …

Enhanced Energy Group of West Kingstown is also looking at cutting emissions from the oil and gas industry, while increasing production. Its founder, Paul Dunn, spent 25 years designing engines for the Navy, some of which were emissions free.  He’s now building power sources that sequester CO2 before it vents into the air. …

Bioprocess Algae is converting unwanted CO2 into algae for fish and animal feed, and as nutritional supplements. The company recently relocated its headquarters from Portsmouth, R.I., to Shenandoah, Iowa, to be closer its CO2 supply source, a corn-fueled ethanol plant.”

Chief technology officer Toby Ahrens says that sequestering carbon dioxide in algae may not have large-scale prospects, but so far, it is one of the few profitable opportunities in this arena. More at ecoRI, here.

Photo: iStock
Trees are one way to sequester carbon.

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At the radio show Living on Earth, Steve Curwood recently interviewed Gary Cook of Greenpeace about an effort to get tech companies to be greener.

CURWOOD: “Back in 2012, you criticized Apple for using carbon-intensive energy from coal plants to power its servers. …

COOK: “Just after we spoke, they made a commitment to be 100 percent renewably powered, and as the end of last year, they even made that goal. So, it’s been quite a big shift.

CURWOOD: “100 percent renewable energy. How’s that possible?

COOK: “It requires some effort. Apple has done a lot in North Carolina where they have their largest data center in terms of deploying two different solar farms and an onsite fuel cell that’s powered with biogas energy, so it’s all renewable. They have several other data centers. … In Oregon they’re using wind; in Nevada they’re using solar.

“So they’ve actually shown a commitment from the top, been very aggressive, probably the most aggressive of any of the brands to make sure as they grow, they’re using clean energy.

CURWOOD: “Biogas. Where are they getting that from?’

COOK:” Currently, they’re getting that from landfill and some other renewable sources. The landfill is methane capture in the southeast, and they’re having that piped to where their data center is in North Carolina.”

The radio interview covers several other efforts tech companies are making. It’s a good thing, too, when you consider, as Living on Earth points out, “If the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth largest consumer of electricity in the world.” More here.

Photo: George Nikitin, Greenpeace
The Greenpeace Airship A.E. Bates flies over Facebook headquarters with a banners reading “Building a Greener Internet” and “Who’s The Next To Go Green?” Apple, Facebook and Google have committed to powering their data centers with renewable energy.

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