Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images.
Ancient grape varieties in the laboratory at the Familia Torres vineyard near Barcelona. 

Here we go, Humans! More adapting.

Today’s story is about pragmatic grape growers adapting to climate change by seeking out grapes that can handle more heat. Too bad they have to do this, but what they learn may help other growers — and all of us.

Ashifa Kassam covers the topic for the Guardian: “The ads – tucked in the corners of local newspapers and directed at winemakers – began turning up across Catalonia in the 1980s. ‘If you know where to find any uncommon grape varieties, please get in touch,’ they read.

“Dozens of tips came pouring in, shepherding Miguel A Torres in his search for long-forgotten wine grapes. But it wouldn’t be until a decade later, as the climate crisis began wreaking havoc on vines, that the fourth-generation winemaker realized his foray into the past could play a key role in tackling what lies ahead.

“ ‘I simply wanted to recover the heritage – the ancient traditions and vines – left to us by our ancestors,’ said Torres, the president of Familia Torres winery.

‘And then we realized that some of these varieties take longer to ripen, meaning they might be able to help us in a warming world.’

“It was a glimmer of hope as the wine industry grapples with a changing climate. Extreme weather, drought and steadily rising temperatures have laid bare a crop that is extremely sensitive to change. In Spain, rising temperatures have meant grapes ripening more quickly, leaving winemakers rushing to harvest in hopes of protecting the carefully concocted balance between the fruit’s sugars and acidity.

“ ‘Climate change is the worst threat the sector has ever faced,’ said Torres. …

“In California, vintners are embracing grapes such as mourtaou, a nearly extinct variety from south-western France, to create peppery reds, while some in France’s Cognac region are toppling more than a century of tradition to trial climate-resistant grapes. In Bordeaux, concerns about the climate crisis recently helped to secure the approval of six new grape varieties, including castets, a disease-resistant variety that had been on the brink of disappearing.

“The reasons these grapes fell into disuse varies widely, said José Miguel Martínez Zapater, the director of the Institute of Grapevine and Wine Sciences in La Rioja. Some were abandoned in the late 19th century as the phylloxera plague forced European grape growers to chase efficiency, while others were discarded as winemakers sought to comply with strictly defined appellations or consumer preferences for certain grapes.

“Martínez Zapater’s publicly funded institute is one of several across Spain that have been peering into the past to bolster wine grape diversity – a years-long process that involves identifying the varieties, testing out their characteristics and seeking official approval for their use. … ‘People are finding varieties in different areas that they consider interesting.’

“In Spain – home to a €5bn-a-year wine production industry [$5,390,000,000] whose production outpaced all other EU countries in 2021 – much is on the line. Last year, the country experienced its hottest year since record-keeping began; since 2015 the country has sweltered through four of its hottest years on record.

“At the Agrarian Technological Institute of Castilla y Leon, known as ITACyL in Spanish, two decades of research have led to the recovery of more than a dozen varieties of grapes. The list includes estaladiña, a grape whose last recorded reference stretches back to 1914, and cenicienta, a grape close to extinction before it was revived to make fruity reds.

“ ‘The wines they make are very distinct and interesting,’ said José Antonio Rubio Cano, who heads the viticulture and woody crop department at the institute. … He stressed, however, that the embrace of these long-overlooked varieties is just part of the broader efforts needed as the industry adapts to a changing climate. ‘There’s no one solution,’ said Rubio Cano. ‘It has to be a set of things; we have to pay more attention to the vines, be more aware of how their fruits are ripening and we need to develop a deeper understanding of the vineyard and the different varieties.’ …

“The Caserío de Dueñas vineyard is taking the institute’s research to the next level, planting hectares of eight of the recovered varieties to test out how the grapes behave in a real-world scenario.

“ ‘I find it super-interesting,’ said Almudena Alberca [who in 2018 became Spain’s first female master of wine and is] the technical director for Entrecanales Domecq, the vineyard’s owner. ‘The possibilities are endless.’ …

“Four decades after Torres placed his first ad seeking forgotten grapes, Familia Torres has begun releasing small quantities of wines made from the fruits of his quest, such as forcada and pirene. The wines tell a story that is both steeped in the past and nods at the enormous challenge that lies ahead as the climate crisis tightens its grip, said Torres.

“ ‘I’ve always said that the wine sector is the canary in the coal mine,’ he added. ‘The consequences that vineyards are living through right now should make everyone take notice.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. No firewall; donations encouraged.

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Photo: Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute.
Geologist Peter Kelemen surveys an outcrop of exposed mantle rock in Oman. “The light material is a carbon-based mineral that has reacted with the rock to form a solid deposit,” reports Columbia University.

Scientists from many specialties are working on new angles for dealing with global warming and carbon in the atmosphere. Today’s story features geologists.

Kevin Krajick reports at Columbia Climate School’s State of the Planet, “Geologist Peter Kelemen has been working in the desert of Oman for more than 15 years to study natural chemical reactions within rare deep-earth rocks that pull carbon from the air and lock it into solid mineral form.

“His goal: harnessing and speeding up those reactions to remove carbon on an industrial scale. Based in large part on his research, Omani entrepreneurs recently formed 44.01, a company working to scale up and commercialize the processes. The company was just awarded a $1.2 million Earthshot Prize. … We spoke with Kelemen about the science behind the project, its current state, and its prospects for the future.

Tell me about the rocks in Oman, and what makes them special.
“The mountains of northern Oman and along the coast of the United Arab Emirates host a huge block of oceanic crust and upper mantle that was thrust onto the edge of the Arabian continent. … It is 350 kilometers long, up to 50 kilometers wide, and many kilometers thick. It is tilted, and exposes rocks that formed more than 20 kilometers below the sea floor. Surface exposures of the Earth’s mantle are quite rare, and this is the largest in the world. …

“Rocks like this react rapidly with CO2 in the atmosphere and surface water, and this forms solid carbonate minerals, for example limestone. The process is spontaneous. So we’ve been seeking to understand how it works, and then design methods that accelerate it in order to store significant amounts of CO2 on a human time scale. We are focusing on injecting CO2 dissolved in water underground. It might use a lot of water, and of course water is very valuable in the Middle East, so we look for areas near the coast. …

How did 44.01 start, and what is your involvement?
“I and my colleague Jürg Matter, who was formerly at Columbia, were first approached by on Omani entrepreneur, Talal Hasan, in about 2017, when he was working for Oman’s sovereign wealth fund. Talal hoped to persuade the government to invest in CO2 storage in the mantle rocks. But then he ended up leaving the fund, and he and a childhood friend founded 44.01. Jürg now works with them about half time. I plan to remain in more of an advisory role.

Where would the carbon come from?
“44.01 has obtained a solar-powered device that removes CO2 directly from air, from the Swiss company Climeworks. They’re operating it near Oman’s capital city, Muscat. For pilot studies, we could also use CO2 captured from smokestack sources, like the many gas-fired power plants, water desalination plants and other industrial operations in Oman and the UAE. …

“We’ve obtained government permits and run some small pilot projects at a former scientific drilling site. We are now planning two much larger pilot projects, both expected to take place in 2023. Ideally we would achieve substantial results before the COP28 meeting in the UAE, in 2023. Eventually, we hope, some government or group of governments would pay them to lock up the carbon, at a rate of maybe $30 a ton. Globally, such costs end up being a few percent of GDP, comparable to the current costs of solid waste management.

“The main concern is that the rocks are not very porous. That leads to two difficulties. One, it can be difficult to get fluids to circulate rapidly through the rocks, and two, the pore space might eventually clog up with newly formed carbonate minerals. However, we are inspired by the fact that in some places the rocks have naturally become fully carbonated. That is, every magnesium and calcium atom in them has combined with CO2 to create solid minerals. So we know this can happen, and we have ideas about how it works. We have done theoretical calculations, and conducted experiments at the laboratory scale. But in the end, only field scale experiments will allow us to refine methods to do this at a reasonable cost.

Are there other places with similar rocks?
“Yes, but Oman and the UAE are the best. The next largest outcrops are in New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea. They would be great places to take CO2 from the air, but I think we need to demonstrate that this process works on the Arabian peninsula before trying to get things going on islands in the southwest Pacific. There are other, smaller areas that could work, including parts of California and Oregon. However, those spots are water-limited, and I expect local stakeholders would be concerned about that. …

“In addition to forming solid carbonate minerals, the reaction of surface waters with mantle rocks can form free hydrogen gas. It is widely viewed as a potential replacement for fossil fuels, specifically natural gas and oil, for transportation and home heating. And if derived at low cost from natural sources, it could also be used to generate electricity. We are continuing academic research on the rate of hydrogen formation, and studying ways that could be accelerated.”

More at Columbia Climate School’s State of the Planet, here.

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Photo: Stephanie Hanes/The Christian Science Monitor.
A jogger runs on a path in Babcock Ranch, Florida, on Nov. 3, 2022. Babcock Ranch, which calls itself America’s first solar-powered town, survived Hurricane Ian with little to no damage.

When does the bottom line get in the way of building something to last? Too often.

But there are always outliers. At the Christian Science Monitor, I learned recently about housing developers in Florida who give “careful consideration of how the built environment will respond to an increasingly harsh climate.”

Stephanie Hanes writes, “As Hurricane Ian moved toward Florida’s west coast in late September, Amy Wicks drove around this rapidly growing community, trying to figure out what she hadn’t thought of yet. She checked for any debris that might be blocking water runoff paths; she took note of the restored wetlands; she hoped that no alligators had taken up residence in the drain pipes.

“Eventually, she returned to her own home here, hunkered down with her husband and three children, and listened as freight train winds moved over Babcock Ranch, a 4-year-old planned community some 20 miles inland from Fort Myers. At that point, she says, she could only hope that the unique storm water system she had designed and monitored over the past decade would be up for the task. …

“The storm sat overhead for nearly 10 hours, dumping more than a foot of rain on this swath of old Florida cattle ranches and newly built cul-de-sacs.

“By the time it subsided, it was clear that something extraordinary had taken place in Babcock Ranch. Created as a sort of laboratory for green development in Florida, and intentionally designed to survive extreme weather, the town proved remarkably resilient in the face of a Category 4 hurricane.

“Unlike surrounding areas, it did not flood, in large part because of Ms. Wicks’ years of planning and her unique stormwater management design that mimicked natural systems rather than fighting them. It did not lose power, thanks not only to its 700,000-panel solar grid and battery backup system, but also to the power line hardening developers undertook with their utility provider, Florida Power and Light. And because Babcock Ranch owns and operates its own water plant, which also survived the storm, it was the only town in Charlotte County that did not go under a boil-water alert. …

“Across the state, there is a small but growing effort to build more resilient communities in Florida – an effort to shift a yearslong pattern of rapid development that many here say exacerbates water shortages and other environmental risks. …

“With a constant flow of new homebuyers – an average of nearly 1,000 people move to Florida each day, according to oft-repeated state statistics – developers have tried to acquire as much land as possible, and as quickly as possible. That often means buying up faded ranches or long-ignored swaths of swamps and forest – green-covered lands that must be flattened and cleared to make way for housing developments and roads and shopping centers.

“Indeed, to meet building codes that require homes to be graded above street level, developers will typically bulldoze the landscape, dig storm ponds, and then use the fill from those holes to prep building sites, explains Timothee Sallin, co-CEO of Cherrylake, a landscape company working across the Southeast that has become a leader in sustainable design.

“Traditionally, developers would replant that denuded landscape with the types of species that outsiders tend to think about when they imagine Florida – green St. Augustine grass, colorful azaleas, draping bougainvillea. The problem, Mr. Sallin says, is that these plants aren’t native to the state, so they require a lot of inputs to stay healthy, such as water, fertilizer, and pesticides. They also struggle to thrive in soil devoid of organic material and nutrients.

“ ‘The developers have to mass grade a site to build efficiently and economically,’ he says. ‘The most efficient thing to do is to raze it and bring in fill. But that creates soils that are difficult to work with.’

“Meanwhile, because the natural topography of the land has been erased, and the natural water collection systems of wetlands and marshes eliminated, the man-made drainage system becomes the only way to capture water. This can be a problem in some storms – particularly those with unusually heavy rains thanks to climate change.

“All of this, says [Jennison Kipp, a resource economist with the University of Florida and the state coordinator for Sustainable Floridians] creates a system without resilience, suffering from both too much and too little water. ‘The landscapes are on life support,’ she says. …

“According to the state’s central water authority, the region will face a 235 million gallon a day shortfall by 2035 unless demand and usage patterns change. This is one of the reasons why when 27,000 acres of ranch land came up for development just south of Orlando – part of a 300,000 acre swath owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – executives at the development company Tavistock decided to approach the project differently. …

“To plan Sunbridge, which is about two-thirds the size of Washington, D.C., [Clint Beaty, senior vice president of operations for Tavistock and the lead on the Sunbridge project] and others at Tavistock coordinated with representatives from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Sustainable Floridians, and other groups. They came up with a plan to use native landscaping – even eschewing the popular St. Augustine grass for the more drought and heat resilient (although occasionally browner) Bahia grass. They are saving and relocating some of the old live oak trees on the property. All of the new homes will be wired for solar panels and electric vehicle plug-ins, and one model house version boasts Tesla solar shingles and a battery backup system.

“Meanwhile, to help move away from fertilizers, scientists have built a living laboratory along a walking path at the development’s community center, called Basecamp, where they are testing the viability of different species of native plants as well as different sorts of compost amendments to soil and the impact on pollinator species. Mr. Beaty is also working to figure out how to arrange for large scale composting and food-waste recycling for the community.”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall. Subscriptions welcome.

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Photo: Siddarth Machado, Flickr, CC BY NC 2.0.
About half of all fish species live in freshwater,” says the environmental radio show Living on Earth. “Pictured above is the bluegill sunfish, commonly found east of the Rocky Mountains.”

As world leaders wrap up the latest climate-change conference, in Egypt — delivering scary messages to us all — I’d like to think stories like today’s are reassuring. But sometimes the discovery of new species means they were there all along and we just didn’t notice. How they are doing is important because they represent an early warning system.

From the environmental radio show Living on Earth we learn that “more than 200 new species of freshwater fish were discovered worldwide in 2021, including a blind eel found in Mumbai and a fish dubbed the Wolverine pleco for its hidden spines.

“Harmony Patricio is conservation program manager at Shoal, which compiled the report and she joins host Bobby Bascomb for details.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: These 212 new freshwater fish species, I mean, these aren’t just tiny little, you know, minnows or little things that you could see how they can easily be overlooked for a long time. Some of these are actually large fish, can you describe a couple of your favorites for us, please?

“HARMONY PATRICIO: One of them is called the Mumbai blind eel, and it has no eyes, fins or scales. It just has smooth skin that is full of blood vessels and gives it this reddish coloration. It’s a subterranean fish. It is from the northwestern Ghats of India. And the genetic analysis, the researchers who described the species have done show that it’s likely it’s split from its closest relative over 1 million years ago. So it’s had a lot of time to evolve very distinct attributes.

And one remarkable thing about this story of this discovery is that this blind eel was found in a 40 foot deep well, on the premises of a school for the blind. …

“BASCOMB: And I understand there’s also something scientists have called a wolverine fish. Can you tell us about that?

“PATRICIO: Yeah, this one has gotten a lot of interest, I think because of the name Wolverine. It’s a wolverine pleco. … It has these lateral spines that can protrude from its gill coverings that it uses to defend itself in a somewhat violent manner. If anything tries to mess with it, they’re gonna be in trouble. The researchers who described this species said in the process of collecting them from the wild, they ended up with bloody fingers. And interestingly enough, other closely related species in this family have never been seen to exhibit this type of behavior, even those that do have these type of spikes. … Apparently, the local fishers in the area where the scientists are working decided to call the fish Buffalo Bill, because it was so aggressive and stabbing everybody with its with its spines. …

“BASCOMB: On the other end of the spectrum, I understand that they found a fish where you can actually see its brain through the skin on its scalp. Can you tell us about that?

“PATRICIO: Yeah, this is a pretty interesting story. So this is an example of a species that was known to science, but had been misidentified for years. It’s native to Myanmar and it’s very tiny, about the size of your thumbnail. And it’s been used by neuroscientists for research for several years. So it’s just sitting under their noses until they did some genetic analyses, and found out it’s a completely different species than they thought it was. … The reason it’s such a great organism for neurophysiological research is because as you said, it has an open skull, and transparent skin on the top of its head. So you can visually observe its brain while it is alive. And you can use that to collect data on brain activity related to different behaviors. The males of these species communicate with each other through sound. And that’s another really interesting thing that they’re able to see is like, what does the brain do when they’re receiving these communicative sounds and how does it process those sounds? …

“BASCOMB: Why are freshwater fish so threatened right now?

“PATRICIO: It’s a combination of factors. A lot of it stems from the fact that humans are, you know, inherently reliant on freshwater ecosystems for our own survival. Part of the issue is for some species, is that they have been over harvested, especially in the cases of mega fish as we call them, which are the world’s biggest freshwater fish. Their populations have collapsed by around 94%. Typically, they do not mature to where they’re able to reproduce until very late age. And so if they’re harvested, you know, when they’re only five or 10 years old, they haven’t had a chance to breed yet, it’s going to really drop down the population very quickly.

“Another big problem is invasive species. About a third of modern freshwater fish extinctions can be traced back to the impacts of invasive species. They change the environmental conditions in the water bodies that they’re introduced too. They often prey upon native species, or compete with them for food sources. Also, pollution has been a huge problem all from agricultural runoff to industrial that can really affect fish’s health and ability to reproduce successfully. The fragmentation of habitats such as damming rivers and reducing fishes ability to complete their life cycles by moving from downstream to upstream has had a significant impact. And climate change is also starting to have a real impact as well. …

“They’re an indicator group of animals that show us what’s happening with the health of aquatic ecosystems that we as humans are highly dependent on. If the fish are not doing well, we can be assured that those systems are not going to be very useful for humans down the road.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Javier Rubilar via Wikimedia.
Chile’s Atacama desert in flower.

I’m not much of a traveler, but when I see photos like the one above showing the desert in flower, I think it would be a treat to see that. Then I read that Chile’s flowering desert is in danger from tourism and I feel like I am actually doing my part by staying home. (Ha! I sound like the fox in the Aesop’s fable.)

Tibisay Zea reports at the radio show the World, “In Chile’s Atacama Desert, it almost never rains. The area is so dry that it even serves as a practice site for expeditions to Mars. But once or twice every decade, the skies open up and it rains, causing dormant seeds underground to grow.

“As a result, a spectacular ‘flowering desert’ of plants that are mostly endemic to the Atacama region attract tourists and botanists from around the world. But the great interest in the flowers is also the same thing that’s endangering them.

“This natural phenomenon of the blooming desert usually happens every 5 to 7 years, and it’s difficult to predict.

“ ‘There needs to be a perfect combination of precipitation and temperature for the flowers to bloom,’ said Monserrate Barrientos, a tour guide for the flowering desert in Copiapó.

“The most emblematic of the plants is a little pink flower — known as pata de guanaco, or ‘guanaco’s foot’ — that carpets large swaths of the desert during the bloom. Guanaco is a wild llama native to the area, whose feet look similar to the leaves of the flower.

“ ‘The leaves are thick, to [be able to] store water,’ Barrientos said. 

“For many scientists, the flowering desert is an exciting event, because it proves the resilience of certain types of flora, like the pata de guanaco, in the world’s driest desert.

“Benito Gomez Silva, a microbiologist at the University of Antofagasta, is studying microorganisms that are very resistant to extreme water scarcity. …

“But the flowering desert is facing several threats. One of them is climate change, according to Cesar Pizarro, a biologist with the Chilean Department of Conservation. ‘Longer droughts or heavier rains could affect the frequency of the desert bloom,’ he said.

Another threat is traffickers who collect the native plants, as well as visitors who pluck flowers to bring home with them.

“During his first visit to the Atacama region earlier this month, Chile’s President Gabriel Boric announced the creation of the Desierto Florido National Park for the first quarter of 2023 in an attempt to preserve the area.

“Environmental organizations have raised concerns in recent years about the possible negative effects of large numbers of tourists visiting the flowering desert, as well as the illegal trade of native flower species and the development of motorsport in the region. … An increased level of protection will ensure that tourists behave responsibly. 

“Chilean tourists Carlos Silva and Ana Maria Acuña drove 23 hours from across the country just to see the flowering desert. …

“Ana said that she’s been inspired by the visit. ‘Humans have a lot to learn from nature. It’s so resilient to scarcity, to difficulties.’

“Professor Benito Gomez-Silva agreed that there is a lot to learn. ‘It’s like translating the information that our little brothers, the microorganisms in the desert, provide for us,’ he said.”

More at the World, here. Nice photos. No firewall. Donations to the World welcome.

You might also be interested in my 2021 post “Returning Pilfered Cactuses,” here, about busting traffickers of Chile’s protected cactuses: “most likely the biggest international cactus seizure in nearly three decades.” 

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Photo: Moira Donovan.
“Hurricane Fiona carved out sections of coastline,” says the
Monitor, “and caused dunes to disappear on Prince Edward Island, where beaches like this one remained closed weeks later.”

There’s nothing like a new experience to make you see things differently. At the Christian Science Monitor, Moira Donovan reports that the severity of a recent hurricane on Canada’s Prince Edward Island is forcing people “to grapple with how climate change is rewriting people’s relationship with the sea.”

She writes, “Robbie Moore spent a week preparing his oyster farm as Hurricane Fiona barreled toward Prince Edward Island in late September. But that didn’t spare it from the impact.

“On Sept. 24, Fiona roared across Atlantic Canada, leaving catastrophe in its wake, including two deaths. Prince Edward Island recorded 92 mph winds, and on the North Shore, where Mr. Moore’s farm is located, the storm ripped up trees, reduced wharves to splinters, and flooded structures. By the time he could get to his farm to assess the damage several days later, he found some sections had vanished, and this year’s oyster crop had been tossed into the treeline, 30 feet from the high-water mark.

“Still, he counts himself relatively fortunate. Some people lost everything, and as much as people had prepared, there was no way to prepare for the damage Fiona caused. ‘There’s a lot of people very discouraged right now,’ he says.

“The recovery is expected to take years. But given what Fiona has shown about the growing threat posed by hurricanes, the more transformative effect could be still to come. As hurricanes become a more regular, immediate danger up and down North America’s Eastern Seaboard, Atlantic Canada – like regions from the Gulf Coast to Florida to New England – is beginning to grapple with how climate change is rewriting people’s relationship with the sea.

“While Atlantic Canada is no stranger to volatile weather, Fiona marked a departure.

Past storms, such as Hurricane Dorian in 2019, had weakened before they made landfall. But Fiona retained much of its strength, making it the most powerful storm to ever hit Canada.

“University of Prince Edward Island climatologist Adam Fenech says that while Fiona was unprecedented, the storm was not unanticipated, given projections of stronger storms in the Atlantic hurricane season. ‘All the things that we’ve been talking about for 30 years are all coming true,’ he says.

“Despite that consensus, Dr. Fenech has spent years playing Cassandra to an at-times skeptical public. Half a dozen years ago, when Dr. Fenech was invited to give a talk about coastal erosion at a cottage development on Prince Edward Island’s North Shore, he warned that many of the properties could disappear in a big storm. Residents were unconvinced. …

“When Fiona hit, 12 cottages in that development were swept off their footings; several were swallowed wholesale by the ocean. In other places, people’s year-round homes were destroyed.

“But in a region where communities have deep ties to the coast, housing isn’t the only concern. Atlantic Canada is the site of Canada’s most lucrative fisheries, operating out of nearly 200 small harbors dotting the coastline – nearly three-quarters of which were affected by Fiona in some way.

“For many harbors, the destruction caused by Fiona will mean an expensive rebuild. But some people are saying the reconstruction should look different.

“When Fiona hit Newfoundland’s southwest coast, Shawn Bath was a day’s drive away; as the scale of the damage came to light, he loaded his truck, hitched his boat, and headed across the province.

“There, he found … shorelines littered with debris. In many places, wharves and fishing stages had been smashed like toothpicks, scattering fishing gear into the water. Mr. Bath and his crew – who run a marine debris cleanup project called the Clean Harbours Initiative – made their way to a small community called Burnt Islands, and got to work. …

” ‘It’s overwhelming,’ says Mr. Bath. ‘Pictures don’t do it justice.’ And he’s worried that there are more than a thousand fishing nets drifting along the bottom of affected harbors. … In the long term, Mr. Bath says the way harbors are laid out needs to be rethought. Fishing infrastructure has traditionally been placed close to the water because that’s where it made the most sense to be. But that calculus has changed.

“ ‘There’s no point in rebuilding and filling all these stages with nets again, if two years down the road the same thing happens,’ he says. ‘Keeping fishing gear on the water’s edge is no longer a reasonable thing to do.’ …

“For Prince Edward Island musician Tara MacLean, who grew up playing in the dunes, the shock of seeing a beloved landscape suddenly vanish was indescribable. …

“Ms. MacLean says the sorrow for what’s been lost should serve as a wake-up call on the risk that climate change poses to the region. But it’s that emotional connection to the water that could also make changing the relationship to it difficult, and when things return to normal, the allure of living close to the water may return, too.”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Avi Werde on Unsplash.
“Rental properties,” notes Living on Earth, comprise more than a third of U.S. housing stock, [and] 40% of the U.S.’s rental housing stock faces risk of damage from climate disasters.”

When I was first visiting retirement communities, I noticed that the heat was turned up high. I asked in one place if residents could control the temperature in their rooms, and the answer was no. I thought about that when I heard today’s story. Renters have little control over the temperature in buildings and no say at all about efficiency steps to counter global warming.

Host Steve Curwood at the radio show Living on Earth introduced a recent show on the topic.

“CURWOOD: There will soon be funds and programs for homeowners to take climate action by installing solar panels and energy efficient heat pumps. But renters typically use a third more energy per square foot than homeowners because landlords often don’t get a financial return on installing expensive upgrades to improve insulation and HVAC efficiency. …

“But there are ways for people living in rental housing to go greener, save energy costs and guard against heat waves and other climate related risks, says Todd Nedwick the Senior Director of Sustainability Policy at the National Housing Trust. He spoke with Jenni Doering.

“DOERING: We want everyone to be able to play a role in mitigating the climate crisis. [Landlords] don’t always have that clear incentive to do so. So what kinds of carrots, or sticks for that matter, can help prod building owners to reduce their energy consumption?

“NEDWICK: [There] are incentive programs out there, utility energy efficiency programs, for example, that will help to offset the cost of making building upgrades. Those are really important resources for building owners, especially owners of affordable housing, where there really is very limited cash flow to actually pay for the upfront cost of some of these upgrades. And we’re also seeing policies like building energy performance standards, which basically require building owners of poor performing buildings to make upgrades to reduce energy use of the buildings. So we are seeing both carrots and sticks. I think what works most effectively is when you combine the two. So, if you’re going to have a building energy performance standard and require building owners to make upgrades, especially in affordable housing, providing resources to the owner to actually pay for some of those costs is pretty important.

“DOERING: And how do those incentives and standards work? Are they at the local level, the state level, the federal level?

“NEDWICK: [Standards] are typically at the local or state level. … There are several cities that have implemented building performance standards, and Maryland just became the third state that adopted a building performance standard statewide. And then for the incentive programs, typically those programs are at the utility level. So it’s utilities that are providing those incentives to their customers. However, state public service commissions really make decisions that impact the utilities’ motivation to provide those energy efficiency programs. Input from residents, from affordable housing providers, is really key to designing these programs in a way that’s truly equitable. …

“One opportunity for renters is community solar. We know that renters can’t control the installation of solar panels on their building, but they can access community solar, which allows residents to basically purchase solar generation from a solar community.

“Renters can have control over, for example, improving the lighting in their unit, using more efficient lighting like LED, as well as talk to their landlord and encourage their landlord to participate in some of these energy efficiency incentive programs. …

“DOERING: A lot of sustainable changes like weatherization, even some energy efficiency measures, may come with a significant upfront price tag. What resources are available to help landlords make these upgrades?

“NEDWICK: [Many] utilities offer energy efficiency rebate programs, which helps to defray some of the costs of the building upgrades. There’s also financing that can be available, a lot of green banks develop targeted financing programs for affordable housing, which provides the upfront resources that building owners will need. …

“Some programs [require] as a condition of receiving funding to make building upgrades, landlords have to keep rents affordable, they have to agree not to raise rents as a result of the upgrades that are being made to the building. … If 100% of the cost of the upgrades are being provided through these programs, then there should be very little increase, if any. …

“DOERING: Given that 40% of the US’s rental housing stock faces risk of damage from climate disasters, that’s according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, how is this set to impact renters? …

“NEDWICK: In this country, we spend so much more funding on disaster recovery than we do disaster preparedness. And we’ve found that particularly rental housing, the disaster recovery funding often doesn’t reach renters and owners of rental housing. Typically, disaster recovery programs allocate funding based on the extent of the economic disruption from a climate event. And so that often correlates with higher property values. As a result, a lot of the disaster recovery funding, especially through some of the FEMA programs, really don’t reach affordable housing residents and owners in an equitable way. …

“The Inflation Reduction Act included a $1 billion program specifically targeted to the HUD housing stock that will allow building owners to invest both in the energy efficiency of the building as well as improve resilience. So we are really happy to see that level of investment and that targeted approach to addressing affordable housing.

“There are also programs in the Inflation Reduction Act that will provide rebates to both single family owners as well as multifamily building owners to encourage building owners to invest in energy efficiency, as well as converting existing fossil fuel burning equipment to all electric. [In] Washington, DC, where I’m from, buildings account for 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. So we’re not going to address climate change if we’re not addressing the existing housing stock. You know, climate policy is housing policy.”

More at Living on Earth, here, where you can listen to the show if you’d rather. No firewall.

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Photo: Akhila Ram.
High School student Akhila Ram won a 2022 ‘Most Innovative’ award for her invention to measure groundwater.

When I get discouraged about what we’re doing to the planet, I remind myself of all the young people coming along who like to solve problems.

Today’s post is about those who are addressing water scarcity. Akhila Ram, a high school student in Lexington, Massachusetts, won a science award for her groundwater-measuring gadget. And at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), there are young professors focused on reusing wastewater to save on potable water.

Collin Robisheaux writes at the Boston Globe, “Akhila Ram, a 12th-grader at Lexington High School, isn’t exactly like other high school students. In her free time she enjoys baking, painting – and inventing technologies to map out groundwater levels across the United States in order to monitor problems like water depletion.

“Ram’s invention is a computer model that uses machine learning to interpret data collected by NASA’s GRACE satellite in order to predict groundwater within a few feet of its actual level. While groundwater monitoring tools already exist, they can be expensive to install.

“Ram’s system could give farmers, well owners, and local officials a cost-effective method of monitoring groundwater. According to Ram, this model is the first to use a statistical approach on a large region to predict changes in groundwater levels. …

“The inspiration behind the invention is personal for Ram.

“ ‘My grandparents live in India, and their city faced a major drought,’ Ram said in an interview. ‘It was because of poor management. And I wanted to [do research on] solutions that could be used to properly manage water resources. … I’ve always been really passionate about climate change,’ Ram said. ‘That’s what led me here. I’ve always been trying to come up with ideas in this realm of sustainability and the environment.’ More at the Globe, here.

Meanwhile young college professors at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) are finding ways to make better use of wastewater.

David Staudacher reports at Rise magazine, “Water is our most precious resource, but climate change, pollution, and a growing human population has made this resource even more scarce. More than 2 billion people live in water-stressed countries. …

“To reduce this scarcity, two professors in civil, materials and environmental engineering are looking around in the world to find better ways to reclaim and reuse both fresh water and wastewater.

“To find best practices in water reuse, Associate Professor Sybil Derrible and his team have studied the work done in cities and countries around the world. In search of new water sources, many countries are turning to ocean water. …

“ ‘In places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, there are only a few ways to get water,’ Derrible said. ‘One is from the sea through desalination, and another is by reclaiming used water. Desalination requires a lot of electricity. Recycling used water can save energy and money.’

“Derrible and his team are developing a framework to analyze water circularity — which is the practice of not wasting or losing water and recovering the resources it contains as it is reused in multiple applications — by examining how cities collect, treat, and reuse water. In Singapore, for example, municipalities collect rainwater and recycle wastewater back to industries where it doesn’t need to be treated.

“Derrible wants to create a universal framework that takes into account ideas like this and that can be used anywhere in the world, including places where fresh water is not scarce.

“ ‘Many industries require extensive volumes of water, but the water does not need to be potable. Here, used water that was minimally treated can be sufficient,’ he said. Some places in the United States are already reusing wastewater. In warm climates like Las Vegas, wastewater is used to irrigate golf courses.

“ ‘It’s a big deal because the future of many cities includes reusing water and it is becoming more and more common for many cities in the world because water is a precious resource,’ he said.

“Also, in most countries, water distribution systems consist of large, highly pressurized pipe networks that require an excessive amount of energy and that are vulnerable to large-scale contamination if something goes wrong. However, in Hanoi, Vietnam, water is distributed at low pressures, and most buildings are equipped with a basement tank, a rooftop tank, and separate water treatment processes, resulting in a system that consumes less energy and that is more resilient. …

“Even a city like Chicago — with its vast freshwater resource in Lake Michigan — can benefit from reusing water. Professor Krishna Reddy is working with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC) and several UIC professors on an interdisciplinary project investigating ways to reuse treated wastewater from MWRDGC processing plants in the region and beyond.

“The district discharges some treated water into the Chicago River, where it makes its way into the Mississippi River and ultimately into the Gulf of Mexico. But ‘from a sustainability point of view, this is not a good reuse of a resource,’ Reddy said. ‘We suggest recycling the treated water where it can be reused for beneficial purpose without any further treatment.’ The researchers are gathering data to understand how much water MWRDGC produces, uses, and discharges, and are examining the quality of the water the plants both take in and discharge. One goal is to find new uses for wastewater.

“ ‘One interesting thing is that there are a large number of industries near the water reclamation plants, and they use a lot of water,’ Reddy said. ‘Maybe some of the industries nearby could use the treated water, or it could be used for other applications like agriculture or recreational parks irrigation, toilet flushing, landscaping, and golf courses.’ “

More at the UIC College of Engineering, here.

Photo: Jim Young
Sybil Derrible and his team are developing a framework to analyze “water circularity.

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Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters.
In Louisiana, climate change is erasing Isle de Jean Charles. French-speaking and indigenous residents are moving to higher ground, amid fears of losing their language and culture.

We all know someone who begins to rebuild right after a natural disaster like a wildfire or hurricane, and who are we to judge? But as extreme weather incidents become more common, some of those most affected are, with aching hearts, facing the necessity to be practical.

Patrick Cox reported at PRI’s the World, “Hurricane Ida killed dozens of Lousianans and displaced tens of thousands of others. Among the hardest hit were bilingual and French-speaking communities close to the Mississippi Delta. 

“Alces Adams lives halfway between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico in the small community of Cut Off in Lafourche Parish. Hurricane Ida destroyed his trailer.

“People in this part of Louisiana — bayou country — have long learned to live under adverse weather conditions. But things have gotten much worse in recent years. Rising sea levels, erosion and storm after storm have flooded entire communities. For some French speakers, Hurricane Ida was the last straw, and now many are moving away.

“A year after Ida, Adams’ trailer looks just as it did the day after the storm — twisted and torn apart with furniture spilling out, as if attacked by a pack of wild animals. Next to it is a new trailer, Adams’ temporary home provided by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Adams was born a block away in his grandparents’ house. His family’s older generation spoke only French. Adams said his grandmother learned English, but refused to speak it, except for one word: ‘Yeah.’ 

“ ‘English was forced on us about 100 years ago,’ Adams said. That’s when English was declared the only language of instruction in public schools. Adams recalled listening to his older relatives as they told him stories in French. Even then, he said, he considered the language beautiful. ‘I loved listening to that.’

“Adams’ grandmother and others told him stories of storms and floods they had survived. It helped prepare him — still a child — when Hurricane Betsy battered the region in 1965. …

“Adams doesn’t know what’s next for him. He comes from a long line of Cajuns who he said were compelled to move from one place to another, to escape poverty or discrimination, or hurricanes and flooding. 

“The French language has been a constant in all of this generational change. Adams knows that each time a French speaker moves away, it’s another micro-blow to the survival of French in southern Louisiana.

“Tulane University linguist Nathalie Dajko has been tracking the decline of French in Lafourche and neighboring Terrebonne Parishes for nearly 20 years. She was in graduate school at Tulane when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. It left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Some even ended up in camps that were scattered across several southern states. Dajko visited a few of the camps as part of a gig she had with Save the Children, a nongovernmental organization.

“ ‘Every now and again, we’d come across these French speakers,’ Dajko said. ‘They would be so excited to meet somebody who spoke French, and they would talk about how they missed the French.’ …

“Louisiana French isn’t standard Parisian French. But French has had longstanding roots in the region after France claimed it in 1682. With the area drawing French speakers, the language gained a foothold. It even spread to local Indigenous tribes in the 1700s. They’d formed protective alliances with the colonial French against the British. Some of their descendants still speak French, especially those who live closer to the ocean — and the floods and storms.

“Across a causeway from one of the larger bayous in Terrebonne Parish is an island called Isle de Jean Charles. Abandoned dwellings are everywhere: collapsed walls, caved-in roofs, debris. A couple of the houses are being fixed up. But most aren’t.  Near the end of the road, a house with a sign outside says, ‘Isle de Jean Charles is not dead.’ … 

“Chris Brunet, who answered the door in a wheelchair, said he spoke French at home and English at school. Like Alces Adams, Brunet’s grandmother only spoke French; his parents were bilingual. Everyone living on the island was a member of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe. …

“ ‘Hurricane Ida is the first storm to damage the house,’ he said, pointing out his damaged roof. … Likely to be gone soon is this entire island. In the past 65 years, Isle de Jean Charles has shrunk from 22,000 acres to just 320. 

“It’s not just the storms. There are many reasons why the land is vanishing: rising sea levels, the rerouting of the Mississippi river — some of it natural, some engineered — canal construction, land erosion, some of that caused by oil and gas extraction. Then there’s the levee system, expanded after Hurricane Katrina: a life-saver for those living within it; potentially catastrophic if you’re on the outside of it.

“That’s why Brunet, and almost everyone else on the island, is leaving, with federal government assistance, to a city 35 miles inland where virtually no one speaks French.

“ ‘If I had to predict, I would suggest that people are not going to maintain French,’ linguist Nathalie Dajko said. … Still, Dajko has studied these French and bilingual communities for close to two decades, and said they’re full of surprises. 

“ ‘People have been predicting the death of Louisiana French for generations and it just won’t die,’ she said.”

More at the World, here. For a refresher on Longfellow’s fictional Evangeline, one of the French-speaking Acadians expelled from Canada to settle in Louisiana, click here.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/CSM.
Workers with Bangs Island Mussels, a Maine-based aquaculture company, harvest multiple lines of kelp in Casco Bay.

Humans never stop having to make adjustments. Consider all the confusing updates to your phone, problems with your printer, and the like. You are always having to learn something new.

Similarly, businesses have always had to adjust to market changes, floodplain dwellers have had to move to higher ground, families attacked by invaders have had to move to other countries … the list goes on.

Meanwhile, in Maine, lobster fishermen are having to consider new sources of income.

Stephanie Hanes wrote at the Christian Science Monitor, “The landing dock of the Portland Fish Exchange is busy this afternoon, in a way that almost reminds David Townsend of when there were still groundfish to catch in Casco Bay, when this pier was piled with cod and haddock … back before the fisheries collapsed.

“Now Mr. Townsend waves down to Justin Papkee, who has maneuvered his boat up to the dock. Mr. Papkee is a lobsterman. But hours earlier, he and his crew harvested thousands of pounds of sugar kelp, hauling the seaweed onto his boat from the ropes where it had been growing, cutting off the leafy blades and stuffing them into half-ton potato sacks. …

” ‘We love the new business,’ says Mr. Townsend. ‘This is the thing of the future.’

“Briana Warner smiles when she hears this. This is a new tune for the dockworkers, who not long ago grumbled about how their lives had descended to this, landing ocean weeds. But as the boats keep coming in, their enthusiasm for her efforts has grown. …

“It is her company, Atlantic Sea Farms, that is buying all of it, part of an ambitious effort to revamp not only Maine’s working waterfront, but also the way the state is fighting, and adjusting to, climate change. …

“Ms. Warner says, ‘We are presenting a climate change adaptation tactic that also does no harm, and in fact does positive things. … It makes the ocean better. It makes our coastal ecosystems better. It makes our coastal economy better. And it makes the consumer healthier.’ …

“The story of seaweed here in Maine, and how it is evolving into what some are calling Maine’s new cash crop, is part of a global story. … But it is also intensely local. And this, climate activists say, makes it even more important for understanding how humans around the world might adjust to a quickly changing planet.

“While few researchers would discount the importance of sweeping climate actions by international organizations and countries, there is a growing sense that, at least in the short term, real change will come from variations of what is happening in the waters off the coast of Maine. These will be place-specific initiatives. They will be based on cooperation and unity, not only between humans – the environmentally minded businesswoman and the sometimes conservative fishermen – but also among people and nature: the carbon and the kelp and the restaurateurs. …

“ ‘There’s no one silver bullet,’ says Susie Arnold, a marine scientist at the Island Institute, a Maine nonprofit focused on preserving the state’s working waterfront. ‘It’s going to take everybody. And at this point, we’ve taken such a toll on the Earth that there are going to have to be trade-offs.’ …

“For generations, life in this sparsely populated, ruggedly proud Northeastern state has focused on the ocean. Although Maine’s coast is only about 228 miles from north to south, when you include the various bays and inlets, the state’s shoreline measures more than California’s, totaling some 3,478 miles. Studies show that more than 80% of the household income in some communities traces back to fisheries. …

“For a generation now, lobster has been king of Maine’s seafood industry. It forms the base of a billion-dollar-plus business in the state, which provides the vast majority of domestically caught lobster in the United States. … And the people who hoist the traps take pride in crafting their own stringent measures to protect the fishery. They have imposed regulations on everything. ….

‘Lobster fishermen are notoriously good stewards of our coastal ecosystems,’ says Jesse Baines [of Atlantic Sea Farms]. ‘But we all know that the seasons are more variable every year.’

“Yet the seasons are not just more variable, starting unpredictably later or earlier. On the water, they are also warmer.   

“ ‘The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest bodies of warming water in the world,’ says Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association. ‘And frankly, it’s incredibly scary how fast it’s happening.’

“The reason, scientists say, is climate change. As humans release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the air warms. Much of that heat is absorbed into the oceans. There are also ocean currents that some scientists believe are being disrupted. A shift in one particular circulation pattern has allowed warmer water coming up from the Gulf Stream to push away colder water coming down from Labrador, leaving warmer, saltier currents entering the Gulf of Maine. And that has prompted the lobster population to shift northward. …

“The warmer water has caused other species to migrate to the area, including the endangered right whale. Legal battles have erupted among the lobster industry, interest groups, and the federal government over protecting the mammal. Looking at all of this, economic development experts throughout the state are worried about the risk of so much of Maine’s economy being dependent on lobster. …

“Before she and her family moved to Maine, her husband’s native state, in 2013, Ms. Warner had spent nearly a decade as a U.S. Foreign Service economic development officer based in multiple African countries. There, she watched the struggles of individuals and communities working against forces far larger than themselves. And so she recognized what she was seeing in Maine.

“ ‘It’s just really devastating to see an industry that has taken such a leadership role in conservation and has no ability to stop the volatility because of the greater world’s usage of fossil fuels,’ she says. ‘No matter what the lobster fishery does, they can only control so much because the ocean is just warming.’

“The industry needed another way to make money, she realized – one that would be ecologically helpful instead of harmful. …

“The seaweed known as Saccharina latissima, or sugar kelp, is a yellowish brown alga that grows along rocky coastlines. It takes the shape of an elongated lasagna noodle, with crinkled edges, and can grow up to 16 feet long.

“It is high in a variety of nutrients, and also has a gelling capacity that makes it a useful ingredient for everything from cosmetics to ice cream to toothpaste. And like all plants, kelp absorbs carbon while giving off oxygen. …

“The idea of kelp as both a food source and an environmental solution is not new. Indigenous people in the Americas harvested kelp for generations. In Asia, it’s part of a multibillion-dollar seaweed farming industry.  

“But in the U.S., where far fewer people eat seaweed, there has been scant commercial interest in kelp farming until recently. … Although seaweed currently makes up only a small percentage of [the aquaculture] industry, it is the fastest-growing subsector, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. …

“ ‘The kelp is sucking carbon dioxide directly out of the water, and actually reducing the acidity of the water in its general vicinity,’ [says one kelp farmer]. ‘So if you put the kelp close enough to the mussels, we have measurable, significant evidence showing that the kelp halo effect helps the mussels grow bigger and faster.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Waterstudio/Dutch Docklands Maldives via dezeen.
Maldives Floating City is planned to accommodate up to 20,000 residents. Badly needed. Global warming is sinking the country.

Is it possible to reverse the harm we’ve done to the planet after burning so much fossil fuel? For the people of Maldives, time is of the essence, and they’re not waiting to find out.

Alice Finney writes at dezeen, “The Maldives has partnered with architecture studio Waterstudio to create a brain-shaped floating city that will house 20,000 people in a lagoon near the country’s capital.

“Called Maldives Floating City, the development will contain 5,000 low-rise floating homes floating within a 200-hectare lagoon in the Indian Ocean. As sea levels rise, so too will the city, which will be built upon a series of hexagonal-shaped floating structures.

“In the Maldives, 80 per cent of the country sits less than one metre (three feet) above sea level. With the Maldives islands predicted to be uninhabitable by 2100 due to rising sea levels, the government of the Maldives hopes to offer up to 20,000 locals and foreigners the opportunity to move to the floating city as early as 2024.

“Construction is planned to begin later this year on the development, which will be 10 minutes by boat from the Maldivian capital Male.

” ‘This first-of-its-kind island city offers a revolutionary approach to modern sustainable living perched against a backdrop of the azure Indian Ocean,’ said the studio. …

“Maldives Floating City is among a number of floating city proposals, including Oceanix Busan by architecture firms BIG and Samoo and tech company Oceanix that are designed to offer a housing solution to rising sea levels and global temperature increases.

“However, developer Dutch Docklands claims that none have been attempted on this scale and at this speed with full governmental support.

” ‘While attempts at floating cities have been tried before, none have featured Maldives Floating City’s most compelling selling points: full-scale technical, logistical and legal expertise,’ explained Dutch Docklands.

“The development, which is set to be fully completed by 2027, will be composed of a series of hexagonal islands modeled on the geometric shapes of a local coral called brain coral. When combined and viewed from above the development will resemble a brain. …

“The living platforms will support houses, hotels, restaurants, shops, a hospital, a school and a government building. …

” ‘As a nation at the front lines of global warming, the Maldives is perfectly positioned to reimagine how humankind will survive — and, indeed, thrive — in the face of rising seas and coastal erosion,’ said the Dutch Docklands.

” ‘Inspired by traditional Maldivian sea-faring culture and developed in close cooperation with Maldivian authorities, Maldives Floating City homes will eventually be joined by hotels, restaurants, stylish boutiques and a world-class marina.’

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Assessment Report 2022, states that small island nations such as the Maldives may become completely uninhabitable as the world is on track to warm by two to three degrees this century.

” ‘The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F)’ the report by the United Nations’ climate change panel said. ‘Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.’

“Viable solutions for urban development into the ocean listed in the report include elevating houses on stilts and creating ‘amphibious architecture’ that can float on the surface of rising floodwater.”

Oy. I try to find hopeful stories for the blog, but I think I failed on this one. We really need to reverse what we’ve done. I know climate is not the same as weather, but the extremes of weather we are seeing should convince even nonbelievers that something is going on. I left for my walk at 5:15 am today to “beat the heat.” It was already 80F (26.6 C)!

More at dezeen, here.

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Photo: Tony Jolliffe/BBC.
Finnish researchers Markku Ylönen and Tommi Eronen, who came up with the sand-battery idea. Don’t these guys look just like the kind of young people you’d expect to tackle something impossible?

The big challenge for renewable energy sources like solar and wind has always been storage. Where is there a battery big enough and powerful enough to store the energy until it’s needed?

Bring on a couple wiz kids who think about daunting problems like global warming and overdependence on Russian gas.

Matt McGrath writes at the BBC, “Finnish researchers have installed the world’s first fully working ‘sand battery,’ which can store green power for months at a time. …

“Using low-grade sand, the device is charged up with heat made from cheap electricity from solar or wind. The sand stores the heat at around 500C (~932 degrees Fahrenheit), which can then warm homes in winter when energy is more expensive.

“Finland gets most of its gas from Russia, so the war in Ukraine has drawn the issue of green power into sharp focus. It has the longest Russian border in the EU and Moscow has now halted gas and electricity supplies in the wake of Finland’s decision to join NATO.

“Concerns over sources of heat and light, especially with the long, cold Finnish winter on the horizon are preoccupying politicians and citizens alike. But in a corner of a small power plant in western Finland stands a new piece of technology that has the potential to ease some of these worries.

“The key element in this device? Around 100 tonnes of builder’s sand, piled high inside a dull grey silo.

“These rough and ready grains may well represent a simple, cost-effective way of storing power for when it’s needed most.

“Because of climate change and now thanks to the rapidly rising price of fossil fuels, there’s a surge of investment in new renewable energy production. But while new solar panels and wind turbines can be quickly added to national grids, these extra sources also present huge challenges.

“The toughest question is about intermittency — how do you keep the lights on when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? …

“The most obvious answer to these problems is large-scale batteries which can store and balance energy demands as the grid becomes greener.

“Right now, most batteries are made with lithium and are expensive with a large, physical footprint, and can only cope with a limited amount of excess power.

“But in the town of Kankaanpää, a team of young Finnish engineers have completed the first commercial installation of a battery made from sand that they believe can solve the storage problem in a low-cost, low impact way.

” ‘Whenever there’s like this high surge of available green electricity, we want to be able to get it into the storage really quickly,’ said Markku Ylönen, one of the two founders of Polar Night Energy who have developed the product.

“The device has been installed in the Vatajankoski power plant, which runs the district heating system for the area.

“Low-cost electricity warms the sand up to 500C by resistive heating (the same process that makes electric fires work). This generates hot air which is circulated in the sand by means of a heat exchanger.

“Sand is a very effective medium for storing heat and loses little over time. The developers say that their device could keep sand at 500C for several months.

“So when energy prices are higher, the battery discharges the hot air which warms water for the district heating system which is then pumped around homes, offices and even the local swimming pool.

The idea for the sand battery was first developed at a former pulp mill in the city of Tampere, with the council donating the work space and providing funding to get it off the ground.

” ‘If we have some power stations that are just working for a few hours in the wintertime, when it’s the coldest, it’s going to be extremely expensive,’ said Elina Seppänen, an energy and climate specialist for the city. ‘But if we have this sort of solution that provides flexibility for the use, and storage of heat, that would help a lot.’ …

“One of the big challenges now is whether the technology can be scaled up to really make a difference — and will the developers be able to use it to get electricity out as well as heat? The efficiency falls dramatically when the sand is used to just return power to the electricity grid. …

“Other research groups, such as the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory are actively looking at sand as a viable form of battery for green power. But the Finns are the first with a working, commercial system, that so far is performing well, according to the man who’s invested in the system.

” ‘It’s really simple, but we liked the idea of trying something new, to be the first in the world to do something like this,’ said Pekka Passi, the managing director of the Vatajankoski power plant.”

One of the aspects of this approach that I like best is that it doesn’t use lithium, a “blood mineral,” the mining of which often hurts local communities.

Check out the graphic at the BBC, here, to see how the sand-battery works.

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Photo: Sterling College, Flickr, CC BY-S.
Solar panels and sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine. Solar energy and renewables can help keep oil tyrants from invading other countries.

One of the challenges Ukrainian allies have had in fighting back against Putin’s war is that so many of them have been dependent on Russian oil.

Bobby Bascomb at Public Radio International’s Living on Earth interviews environmentalist Bill McKibben on ways to get serious about renewables and free ourselves from the power of the fossil fuel industry.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: The horrors of Russia’s war in Ukraine are funded in large part by fossil fuels that it sells to the tune of half a billion dollars every day. Nearly half the federal budget for Russia comes from oil and gas revenue and the European Union is their biggest customer. … But the EU recently unveiled a plan to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds this year and eliminate imports entirely by 2027.

“To help speed that phase out the Biden White House is reportedly considering a plan to use the Defense Production Act to rapidly manufacture and send electric heat pumps to European homes, many of which are currently heated by Russian gas. This idea to make Heat Pumps for Peace was first raised by writer and activist Bill McKibben, who co-founded 350.org and Third Act. … So first remind us, what exactly is a heat pump? …

“BILL MCKIBBEN: Think of it as an almost reversible air conditioner, made often by the same people. It takes ambient heat from the air, and uses that to heat the inside of your house, and does it pretty well, down to quite cold temperatures, because it turns out there remains some latent heat in the air even on a cold day. It’s wonderful technology because it’s able to produce heat with far, far less emissions than if you were running the gas furnace or the oil furnace in the basement. It runs off electricity, which means that the cleaner you get the grid, the cleaner the emissions result. And in the case of the current war in the Ukraine, it’s particularly significant because deployed in sufficient number across Europe, it would rob Vladimir Putin of his longtime weapon, the threat to turn off the gas supply to Western Europe. …

“What you really want, of course, is to connect them to a grid that gets steadily, steadily cleaner. … Not just in order to save the planet’s climate, though that would certainly be nice. But also because [fossil fuel] is the fuel of choice for autocrats.

“BASCOMB: Well, why push for heat pumps then and not say, expanded rooftop solar, for instance?

“MCKIBBEN: That works too, go to work on any of these things. In fact, some of the things are super easy. There’s a lot of spare capacity in the US, apparently, for producing insulation right now. And anybody who’s spent time say, in a British house knows that insulation was not a big feature of a lot of the housing stock. So let’s get bundles of that across the ocean as fast as we can. The point is that if we’re able to make use, say, of the Defense Production Act, which every president since the Korean War has used, and which both Trump and Biden used to speed up vaccine production, then we can take advantage of this spare capacity and get some of this stuff over to Europe before next October, when I would predict it’s going to start getting cold again. …

“BASCOMB: Well, how quickly can manufacturers ramp up production of heat pumps on the massive scale that would be needed to quickly phase Europe off of gas?

“MCKIBBEN: Well, the people that I’ve talked to in the federal government think that it can happen pretty fast, that there’s spare capacity at the big air conditioner manufacturers, companies like Carrier or Trane, that would allow them to start pretty quickly putting this stuff into operation — and that talking about the course of the next six months for getting a lot of these installed is not crazy. But again: heat pumps, insulation, whatever we can think of that help reduce the power of Vladimir Putin’s energy weapon. …

“BASCOMB: I looked into getting heat pumps in my house here in New Hampshire a couple years ago; we put up solar panels at the time and considered heat pumps to go along with them. But it was basically going to double the cost of our solar installation. What kinds of policies can be put in place to help bring down those costs, so they’re more affordable for many Americans?

“MCKIBBEN: Well, first of all, this is precisely, you know, one of the advantages of getting the government involved quickly in doing this. Once you start building things en masse, you get better at it, and they get cheaper, and more and more people know how to install them. And that’s already happening. You know, we have them installed here in [Vermont]. The local contractors are increasingly conversant with the technology. But that needs, as you say, to spread out fast. … There’s no way that we’re going to do what the IPCC has asked and cut emissions in half by 2030 if everybody’s still got a gas furnace blazing away in the basement.

“BASCOMB: Well, heat pumps are basically air conditioning systems in reverse, as you mentioned earlier, so they provide heat in the winter, and they cool homes in the summer. Around 5% of European homes currently have air conditioning. So to what extent can heat pumps [have] the added benefit of helping Europe prepare for the extreme heat waves that are going to be coming with climate change? …

“MCKIBBEN: A very significant point. It’s not just Europe, either. I mean, the demand for air conditioning is going to grow exponentially as this century goes on. And it’s going to grow most in the hottest and poorest places. Countries like India are forecast a huge growth in air conditioner usage. … Efficient, good technology like this is desperately needed around the world.”

More at Living on Earth, here. No firewall.

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Photo: AP.
After Greta Thunberg went back to Sweden on a sailboat, the concept of flygskam – “flight shame” in Swedish – became common in Europe. Today increasing numbers of people are finding they are enjoying trains and bikes, and other transportation alternatives a lot more than airport hassles.

Yesterday, Suzanne and Erik took their kids on their first train trip. As a big fan of trains myself, I’m eager to hear how these experienced young fliers feel about Amtrak’s more leisurely mode of getting somewhere.

If they become train converts, they won’t be alone, as Stephanie Hanes writes at the Christian Science Monitor.

“The last time Jack Hansen took an airplane, he was a junior at the University of Vermont. To return from a semester abroad in Copenhagen, he flew from Denmark, stopped in Iceland, and landed in New York. 

“But the next term, one of his professors asked students to calculate their individual energy usage. And when Mr. Hansen did the math, he realized that just one leg of that international flight accounted for more energy, and more greenhouse gas emissions, than all the other things he had done that year combined – the driving and heating and lighting and eating and everything else.

“ ‘I just couldn’t justify it,’ he says. ‘It really is an extreme. It’s an extreme amount of energy, an extreme amount of pollution.’

“So Mr. Hansen decided to stop flying. That was in 2015. Since then, he has traveled by train and bike and car, and has even written a song about the trials of getting home to Chicago on an overnight bus. But he has not been on an airplane.   

“And he has never found travel more joyful, he says. …

“With more people recognizing the climate impact of the aviation industry, and more people interested in lowering their own carbon footprint, a new ethos of ‘slow,’ climate-friendly travel is taking hold. And those at the forefront of this movement – travelers like Mr. Hansen who have pledged to go ‘flight free’ for a year or more – claim that their new approach from getting here to there is surprisingly fun.

“ ‘The motivation initially is the emissions, but once you try it, you think, “Why have I been torturing myself?” ‘ says Anna Hughes, the head of Flight Free UK, a group based in the United Kingdom that has collected some 10,000 pledges from people to eschew flying. …

“Go more slowly, she says, and travel begins to return to what it once was: a slow metamorphosis of one place to another, a sense of space, an unwinding of time. …

“But there is more underlying the satisfaction of land-based travel, psychologists say. A growing body of research increasingly ties environment- and climate-friendly behavior to a personal sense of well-being. In a recent Environmental Research Letters article, for instance, author Stephanie Johnson Zawadzki of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands explored the stereotype that environmental living is all about sacrifice. She found numerous studies showing that people not only felt better when they took easy ‘green’ actions – choosing a paper bag at the grocery store, for instance, or buying a ‘sustainable’ product – but also reported an improved sense of well-being when those actions required more give. …

“Part of this, psychologists speculate, is that taking actions to counteract global warming helps counteract ‘climate distress,’ an increasingly recognized psychological phenomenon.  

“Climate distress, explains New York-based psychologist Wendy Greenspun, is ‘a range of emotional reactions from sadness to despair to grief to anger and rage, hope and shame and guilt.’ And one of the key ways to build resilience to it, she says, is to behave like part of the solution, and to creatively connect with others doing the same.

“ ‘Guilt maybe leads us to recognize that we care and we want to repair,’ she says.”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Biodiesel33/ Wikimedia.
An Earthship is a style of architecture developed by architect Michael Reynolds. Earthships are designed to behave as passive solar earth shelters.

When I saw that one of the women in the movie Nomadland was building an earthship, I was puzzled. Was this related to an interest in UFOs? A survivalist thing? Certainly living off the grid had to be beneficial both for individuals and the planet, but what’s the rest of the story? Now I know more.

Nick Aspinwall writes at the Washington Post that “earthships have long been an offbeat curiosity for travelers, but through the lens of climate change, they suddenly look like a housing haven. …

“Mike Reynolds never worried too much as the world inched closer to doomsday,” Aspinall reports. “In the spring of 2020, motorists lined up in their cars outside grocery stores waiting for food as the coronavirus pandemic first wrapped its tentacles around the global supply chain. Next came an unprecedented surge of extreme weather as wildfires devastated the American West, hurricanes lashed tropical coastlines and a deadly winter storm brought the Texas power grid to its knees.

“ ‘I was watching that on TV and then walking down the hallway of my building, picking bananas and spinach and kale and tomatoes and eating them. Barefoot, because my building was warm without fuel,’ Reynolds said. ‘My Earthship took care of me.’

“Earthships are off-grid, self-reliant houses built from tires, dirt and garbage. … Residents of the 630-acre flagship Earthship community treat their own waste, collect their own water, grow their own food, and regulate their own temperature by relying on the sun, rain and earth, which Reynolds and other adherents call natural ‘phenomena.’

“Reynolds, 76, has been building these structures — he calls them ‘vessels’ — since the early 1970s when, after graduating from architecture school at the University of Cincinnati, he took up off-road motorcycle racing on the high desert plateau around Taos. … He never left, attracting interest and eyerolls as dozens of Earthships arose from the dirt. …

“New Earthships once used to sit dormant for years, but many are now sold before they’re even completed as the pandemic has drawn people to an oasis of self-sufficiency. They range from dreamers such as Linda May, who was depicted in the film Nomadland and whose ultimate goal was to build an Earthship, to young people anxious about a worsening climate, a housing shortage, and the dark promise of eternally escalating electricity and heating costs. To them, Earthships offer a life free of grids and bills; a clean break from a world that feels like it’s on the verge of breaking itself. …

“Earthships operate using six green-building principles governing heating and cooling, solar electricity, water collection, sewage treatment, food production, and the use of natural and recycled materials. …

“About 40 percent of a typical Earthship is built with natural or recycled materials, most notably foundations and walls made up of hundreds of used tires packed with dirt. These work with dual layers of floor-to-ceiling passive solar windows, which collect sun during winter and reject it in the summer to keep structures at a comfortable room temperature, no matter the weather outside.

“Inside a usual customized Earthship … plants line corridors between inner and outer windows, while glass bottles and aluminum cans stuffed inside walls make rooms look like mosaic playgrounds resembling the work of Antoni Gaudí. …

“Each Earthship shares a set of core organs such as a water organization module, which filters and separates water as it moves throughout the house. In the Earthship ecosystem, water is first used for drinking, showering and hand washing before moving to interior plants, such as fig and banana trees, along with hanging gardens of herbs and flowers. The resulting ‘gray water’ is used to fertilize ornamental outdoor plants and can be safely released into the groundwater supply or used in the toilet. …

“Enthusiasts warn against buying or building an Earthship before participating in an Earthship Academy, in which students pay about $1,000 to spend a month helping with a build and taking classes on construction and maintenance.” More at the Post, here.

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