Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

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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Photo: Dougie Barnett/NatureScot.
Flanders Moss in Scotland has seen the return of key bog plants such as sphagnum (peat moss) and cottongrass — so important now that we know bogs can store the carbon we don’t want in the atmosphere.

My father-in-law sold peat moss, among other agricultural products, for his entire career. He usually got the peat from Canada, although other people source it from places like Germany and Ireland. In Moat, Ireland, our friend James Hackett relied on peat for warming the house. (Burning it was not the best thing for his health.)

Today’s story is about Scotland’s heightened focus on protecting peat bogs so they can store carbon and fight global warming.

Phoebe Weston reports at the Guardian, “Flanders Moss bog is slumped on the flat, farmed landscape of the Carse of Stirling in Scotland like a jelly fungi. It wobbles when you walk on it, and a metal pole goes down eight metres before reaching hard ground. This lowland-raised bog is a dome of peat fed mainly by rainfall and it acts like a single organism – the whole thing has to be looked after for any part to be in really good shape. If it is drained in one area it will affect the water level across the entire bog.

“For much of human history peat bogs have been thought of as wastelands. This 860-hectare [~2,200 acres] site has been hacked away and drained since the early 1800s to make space for fertile farmland below. …

“It is now recognized that peat bogs are among the greatest stores of carbon and, after decades of restoration, the holes in the peat at Flanders Moss have been patched up. Areas that used to be purple with heather are turning green as key bog plants such as sphagnum (peat moss) and cottongrass come back. The bog rises out of the land like a sponge and ‘breathes’ as changes in the weather and water level cause it to swell and contract.

“Researchers in Scotland are tracking ‘bog breathing’ using the latest satellite technology that can detect just a few millimetres of change. … Thanks to the restoration work, the water table has risen [and] is now at the surface. As the bog draws in water from the surrounding land, it helps manage flood risk. Flanders Moss bog has removed [about 2,200 acres] from the Forth catchment, reducing flooding downstream. …

“The Scottish government-funded Peatland Action project, which started in 2012, is helping revive 25,000 hectares [~61,776 acres] of degraded peatland. In 2020, the Scottish government committed [about $300 million] over 10 years to bog restoration in a bid to lock carbon in the land. …

“It takes about a month to process the satellite data for a third of Scotland, which is available through the Copernicus Open Access Hub. The technology is still in development but is likely to be cheaper than ground-based mapping. …

“Despite these restoration efforts, Flanders Moss is still a net emitter of carbon. … Stopping these emissions and preventing further degradation are the primary objectives of the restoration project.

“Bogs work on a different timeframe than humans. They form slowly … taking up to 1,000 years to grow one metre. But [David Pickett, who manages the site with his National Nature Reserve] team has jump-started recovery. ‘We’ve done most of the big work here,’ he says. ‘Now, it’s a question of waiting. The process of fixing this site will last 100 years, and the benefits of work being done now will only be seen by the next generation.’

“It’s easy to see why bogs weren’t popular. They are stores of partly decayed organic matter, which are too acidic and devoid of nutrients to support healthy trees. But this bog is colorful and has a fresh, earthy smell. As well as being a fantastic store of carbon, this ancient, watery land – healthy peat is about 90% water – is also rich in wildlife, including rare lizards, dragonflies and even snakes.

“ ‘There isn’t headline sexy stuff like puffins and seals but you go around the boardwalk and it’s a fantastic place,’ says Pickett. ‘I always used to think bogs must have been named on a Friday after a really bad week. We’re trying to change the perception of bogs but it’s a hard sell.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate/AP
“Roofing contractors install a temporary roof on a home in New Orleans East, Sept. 8, 2021. FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are overseeing this Blue Roof program to help homeowners recover from the damage cause by Hurricane Ida,” the
Monitor reports.

Can humanity learn from history? Sometimes, yes. According to this September 2021 story, people are learning from climate disasters. Even I, as a child on Fire Island, learned that people who build houses on sand dunes ask for heartbreak. Collectively, the towns on the island learned the same thing.

Marshall Ingwerson wrote this report on collective learning at the Christian Science Monitor.

“In the weeks since Hurricane Ida landed at New Orleans, it has illustrated two very different stories. One is the rising violence of the changing climate. The other, which is only now fully emerging, is the human resilience that has already made the world far safer. …

“The aftermath of Hurricane Ida is now entering what we might call the resilience zone. It can be the most testing, and telling, phase.

“As part of the Monitor’s Finding Resilience project, here is a tale of two cities: The New Orleans hit by Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago and the New Orleans hit by Hurricane Ida late last [August]. 

“They were not identical storms. Ida struck with less sweeping girth than Katrina but more sheer force. They weren’t all that different, either.

“But they hit a different New Orleans. Katrina killed more than 1,800 people. The breaching of the levees put 80% of the city underwater. The blow was nearly existential to New Orleans as we knew it. Three in 10 residents vacated, many permanently. 

“After Ida struck last month, the now-fortified levees held against the surge. The toll in fatalities in Louisiana is at 28. A similar number died in New Jersey as Ida-driven rain flooded the Northeast. The scale of damage and heartbreak is so vastly different that clearly Louisiana is more robust and storm-hardy than in 2005. The population had even grown back in New Orleans, recently surpassing its pre-Katrina numbers.

“Ida has been covered as an example and a warning of the rising violence of climate change, making hurricanes stronger, floods higher, and fires bigger and more frequent in the dry West. And that’s an important context. 

“But here’s another: Even as climate events become more dangerously frequent and potent, humanity has actually become safer – dramatically safer.

“The economist Bjorn Lomborg finds that the number of people killed worldwide by climate-related events in the 1920s, a century ago, was 27 times higher than the number killed over the decade ending 2019.

Corrected for the far higher global population today, the death rate a century ago was more than 130 times what it is today.

“Dr. Lomborg’s point is that when we assess the costs, the dangers, and the difficulties that climate change implies, human resilience and ingenuity is a nontrivial factor. So far, in fact, it has been an overwhelming factor.

“A term like resilience can risk sounding a little minimizing and reductive – just a personal character trait. It is much more than that.

“Those who have been through a hurricane strike report that it is after the winds have gone quiet, the ground dried, and the sun shining in steamy afternoons, only then have they arrived at the hard part – the exhausting building back, the forging ahead, the relaunch into forward motion. …

“Many of the efforts to resuscitate post-Katrina New Orleans were deeply personal, with families making remarkable sacrifices to rebuild the economy and education, much less the roads, bridges, and buildings of the city itself.

“So resilience is a matter of spirit, of finding the heart to come back. But its structure, the ladder resilience climbs, is learning. We pick ourselves up, we learn what we need to learn, and we get to work.

And it’s not just person-by-person resilience that drives the kind of change we have seen. It’s collective.

“Only big, complex teams can achieve what New Orleans accomplished in the past 16 years. The scale of the investment, the engineering, the overlapping interests, the cross-cutting visions and values – only politics can put all that together and sort all that out. …

“Yet humankind has made the world, per Mr. Lomborg’s numbers, more than 99% safer against natural disasters in the last century by scaling resilience. And we do that through the institutions we use to work together. 

“The only way we can learn and then act on as massive a scale as demanded of New Orleans is through the institutions we’ve developed over centuries – whether it’s a city council, a police department, a university, an engineering association, a religious denomination, a news organization, a Supreme Court, or an updated building code.

“It’s the lack of robust institutions that reduce resilience in a country like Haiti – where such institutions were undermined by Western powers for centuries – to a more individual matter. Anyone who has visited the nation has witnessed the sheer energy and unoppressed vitality of the people that crowd the streets of Port au Prince. The spirit is there, but it’s a resilience on foot, a personal challenge, and not yet a resilience that can collectively build safety from the next natural disaster.

“Individual learning can be a flashlight for families, communities, organizations, nations. But it is collective learning, what we achieve together, that holds real power. In fact, civilization itself could be defined as collective learning.”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Ana Ionova.
Luis Carlos Gomes, an açaí grower, holds a handful of the berries from his plantation in the Brazilian state of Amazonas.

What is a good product for the rainforest, both for farmers and for the environment? In the coffee arena, my husband and I like Dean’s Beans because of their focus on the environment and shade-grown coffee.

Ana Ionova writes at the Christian Science Monitor about another rainforest crop, acai berries.

“Squinting into the late afternoon sun, Nelson Galvão leans against the trunk of a towering açaí palm. About 20 feet above his head, nestled into the crown of the palm, clusters of deep-purple berries weigh down the tree’s slender branches.

“ ‘Açaí has been good to us,’ Mr. Galvão says. ‘If you know how to care for it right, it brings in a good income. It’s our family’s survival.’

“For the last two decades, Mr. Galvão has been cultivating açaí, a tart berry native to the Amazon rainforest that has become a global health food sensation and a [industry] worth nearly a billion dollars a year. About 2,000 açaí palms grow on his lot here, some 70 miles from the Amazon capital of Manaus, yielding enough pulp each harvest to earn him about $2,150, the equivalent of a minimum wage.

“Mr. Galvão is working hard to make a living without destroying the forest. Instead of toppling trees, he restores the land by planting banana, pineapple, and cupuaçu – a close relative of cacao – in the gaps between his palms.

” ‘Growing up, I saw my parents clearing big pieces of land, clearing everything,’ Mr. Galvão says. ‘Now I know that, if we just destroy without restoring, all this will come to an end.’

“Many of Mr. Galvão’s neighbors have chosen a different path though. The emerald jungle canopy here is fast giving way to cattle pasture, as in much of the Brazilian Amazon, and Mr. Galvão is feeling the impact.

“Açaí palms usually thrive in this sun-drenched corner of the Amazon, where flood plains swell during the rainy season to form a maze of land and water. This year, though, his trees yielded less as Brazil was hit by its worst drought in almost a century. Then this part of the Amazon was struck by devastating flash floods.

“ ‘We see these weather disasters and we really worry. We wonder about future harvests,’ he says. ‘But the cattle ranchers – they are not worried. They cut, cut, cut. They deforest everything. And we, the small growers, are the ones who end up paying the price.’

“Mr. Galvão is not alone in his concerns for the future. The Brazilian Amazon is being razed and burned at a dizzying pace, with deforestation hitting its highest level in 15 years, despite government vows to curb the destruction. Scientists warn the rainforest is nearing a tipping point. …

” ‘Some areas where açaí palms grow today will no longer be suitable in a future climate scenario,’ says Pedro Eisenlohr, professor at the State University of Mato Grosso and co-author of a recent study forecasting climate change in the Amazon. …

“The popularity of this ‘wonder berry’ spread to gyms and surf shacks across Brazil in the 1990s. Before long, açaí made a name for itself abroad too and quickly amassed a loyal following, making its way into smoothies and protein bars in cities like Los Angeles, London, and Tokyo. Exports have grown more than a hundredfold in the past 10 years. …

“The surge in demand for the nutrient-packed berry has been welcome news in the Amazon, promising a path to prosperity for small-scale growers. Although some have sounded the alarm over the unbridled growth, fearing growers may raze virgin forest to make space for more açaí, the berry has proved a sustainable source of income for most growers, often cultivated within the forest.

“Luis Carlos Gomes experienced the açaí boom firsthand. When he was growing up, the fruit was a lunch staple rather than a business opportunity. When he started planting the berry 12 years ago, he was one of few growers in Autazes excited about its potential. But soon that changed.

“ ‘Before, there was no market for açaí,’ Mr. Gomes says. ‘People only picked it for their families to eat. But, all of a sudden, our açaí started selling and selling. And other people got excited about planting it too.’ …

“The industry has come in for criticism due to allegations about the use of child labor, but as the destruction of the Amazon advances, açaí has emerged as a rare bright spot in the fight to save the rainforest. Projects promoting the sustainable cultivation of the berry aim to make preserving the forest more lucrative than razing it. In already deforested areas, planting more açaí is also helping restore degraded forests while providing local people with an income. …

“Now that climate change is threatening the açaí palms, environmentalists worry that some growers, unable to make a living from the forest standing, will move to raze it, turning the land into pasture.

“Mr. Gomes also worries about what climate change might mean for his açaí trees. Still, for now, he says the future is bright.

“ ‘The droughts, the floods – it all worries me, of course,’ he says, steadying a ladder as his son climbs up a palm in search of the very last berries of the harvest. ‘But we are doing our part. We are planting trees. And we’re putting our faith in açaí.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Bulletin of the US Fish Commission.
The massive Humboldt squid has adapted to climate change. But that’s a challenge for fishing communities who depended on it.

Climate change is forcing the creatures of the Earth to adapt or perish. This is the story of one creature that adapted but, in doing so, forced a more painful adaptation on some human creatures.

Michael Fox reports at PRI’s the World, “On a late afternoon in Kino Bay, Mexico, Gerardo Hernandez is repairing his fishing nets. He strings them out in front of his home, made from old pieces of plywood and corrugated tin. 

“He lives along the Gulf of California, the body of water that separates most of Mexico from the Baja California peninsula. Hernandez, a seasoned fisherman now in his 60s, can still remember the time of the giant Humboldt squid — a massive invertebrate that used to grow up to 6-feet long. Their abundance made for a robust squid industry fueled by 2,000 fishing boats — the vast majority being small pangas like Hernandez’s.

‘There were always a ton of squid,’ Hernandez said. ‘You would go out, and you’d see them on the surface of the water. The more squid you took, the more there were.’

“The days of the giant jumbo squid are over now. About 13 years ago, after a hurricane and an abnormally warm El Niño year, the squid disappeared from the Gulf. Eventually, they returned. But by 2015, they were gone again. Scientists attribute the shift to animal adaptation amid a rapidly changing climate. 

“Hernandez’s kids say they want him to retire now. But he still goes out fishing every night with other members of his small fishing cooperative, and they mostly catch Pacific Sierra fish and crab. He said he brings home enough — but not nearly as much as he did in the days of the Humboldt squid. 

“ ‘They’ve left,’ Hernandez said. ‘They’ve emigrated. Only God knows where they’ve gone.’

“But scientists think they have an idea. They say they haven’t actually disappeared. Instead, the Humboldt Squid that live in the Gulf have shrunk from about 6-feet long to less than a foot, and they’re sticking to deeper depths and cooler waters offshore. 

“Stanford University biologist William Gilly said the squid seem to have developed this strategy long ago to deal with fluctuating water temperatures that come with El Niño cycles. … It’s a species that seems evolved to adapt to the warming waters brought on by climate change. At least, that’s the theory.

“ ‘There’s a lot we don’t know,’ said Rufino Morales, a fisheries biologist and the coordinator of the Producto Calamar subcommittee, a Mexican group that researches and supports squid fishers. ‘We assume that the shift is due to climate change, or global warming, or because it coincides with El Niño, but these are scientific theories. We haven’t been able to prove them yet.’

“The squid seem to be adapting.  The fishing communities they used to support are trying to as well.

“On a warm afternoon in La Manga, a fishing village about an hour west of the port city of Guaymas, a handful of residents gutted a stack of manta rays, whitefish and parrotfish caught that morning. …

“ ‘When the squid was abundant, this was another Guaymas,’ said Maria Collins, a member of the Francisco Flores small fishing cooperative in town. ‘We lived well.’ When the squid left, a lot of people lost their jobs. …

“Many fisherfolk now work in factories off the highway on the northern side of town. Others are doing construction, gardening or plumbing. 

“Some boats began to hunt for jellyfish, which they sell to Asian markets. But the season is short. Locals up and down the coast say none of the catches are doing well. They blame the large sardine ships for overfishing and depleting stocks. 

“ ‘We are fishermen in danger of extinction,’ said Hernandez as he repaired his fishing net. ‘I think everything that’s happening in the ocean is our fault. Like, we aren’t taking care of it. Or, we don’t care for it, and there’s the proof.’ ”

More at PRI’s the World, here.

Fondly remembered fantasy squid.

This is just pretend, you know.

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Photo: Weronika Murray.
Dana Tizya-Tramm
, the youngest chief in his First Nation’s history, is leading the fight against climate change.

Today’s story is about a young man who overcame personal challenges to become a leader of his tribe in the fight against climate change.

Tik Root writes at the Washington Post, “Perched on the edge of the Porcupine river, Dana Tizya-Tramm pointed upstream to a stand of black spruce trees that jutted into the partially-frozen water. They were like lemmings marching off a cliff. Those at the tip were falling into the river, while those in back awaited the inevitable.

“ ‘Drunken forests,’ said Tizya-Tramm, a cigarette between his fingers. He says neither he nor the elders remember there being such a pronounced lean in the past. It comes at least in part, he explained, because the earth no longer stays frozen year-round, even [in Old Crow, Yukon].

“This stretch of the Porcupine runs past the approximately 250-person community of Old Crow. The most northwest habitation in Canada — roughly 80 miles above the Arctic Circle — the town sits at the heart of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. September temperatures had already dropped below freezing, and Tizya-Tramm buttressed himself with tan moose hide mittens and a black puffy jacket. Embroidered on the right sleeve was ‘Chief.’

“At just 34 years old, Tizya-Tramm has risen not only through elected ranks, but from the depths of addiction and trauma to become the youngest known leader in the First Nation’s history. And he’s used that mandate to aggressively combat what he says is among the most pressing threats to his people: climate change.

“The shifting Arctic is squeezing the Vuntut Gwitchin on multiple fronts. Tizya-Tramm says less predictable caribou migration patterns have meant some villages can go years without a successful hunt, and the spawn of certain salmon species has dropped so low that fishing has been severely restricted in recent years. …

“Climate change is even threatening the First Nation’s identity as ‘people of the lakes.’ Scientists say that increased temperatures and higher precipitation have led to wetter conditions and thawing permafrost, which have contributed to the disappearance of dozens of large lakes in the region over recent decades. One study found that between 1950 and 2007, such ‘catastrophic drainages’ became five times more frequent.

“ ‘The hunters and trappers in our community, our harvesters, they’re the experts out on the land,’ said Lorraine Netro, a Vuntut Gwitchin elder. ‘They’ve been seeing and noticing the changes for the past 40 years.’

“These slow shifts can mean immediate hardship. When there’s less meat or fish, there’s more shopping at the Arctic Co-Op, the sole grocery store in town, where all the goods must first be trucked from Winnipeg to Whitehorse and then put on a plane north. A gallon of milk costs (CAD) $13.99. A bag of chips is $8. Tizya-Tramm remembers seeing a watermelon for $80 once. …

“One of the most expensive products in Old Crow, though, is diesel. Since 1961, the town has gotten its electricity through the use of gigantic generators, with fuel that’s flown in at a cost of nearly $11 per gallon. … So it’s hardly a surprise that one of the first questions Tizya-Tramm was faced with as Chief was: What are you going to do about climate change?

“It’s an issue that had been on his radar for years. As a Vuntut Gwitchin government councilor, part of his purview was the First Nation’s renewable energy efforts. While earlier feasibility studies indicated that solar was the best option, Tizya-Tramm inherited a proposed agreement that would have left the Vuntut Gwitchin owning less than half of the system. He helped renegotiate a deal in which the First Nation would own the entire solar array and sell the power back to the grid. The utility company would own the batteries and distribution network.

“By the Vuntut Gwitchin government’s estimate, the system would provide the community with about a quarter of its electricity needs — especially during the long, Arctic summer days. That would save tens of thousands of gallons of fuel per year, which at the astronomical prices in Old Crow is worth over (CAD) $400,000 annually. But the upfront cost for the solar power system was staggering: $7-9 million. Finding funding would take time.

“[Tizya-Tramm] recalled a community meeting after he became Chief during which the group discussed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s bleak assessment of where the planet was headed. On the way home, he said he had an ‘epiphany.’

What if he declared climate change an emergency for his people? …

“Within a week the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation had approved the declaration, which stated that ‘climate change constitutes a state of emergency for our lands, water, animals and people.’ …

“As news of Old Crow’s announcement spread, the town became a rising star in the climate world. Later that year, the Gwitchin built on the momentum when they voted to target net zero emissions by 2030. And, Tizya-Tramm was invited to speak around the globe. …

“Back home, Tizya-Tramm found that money for the solar project was now much easier to come by. ‘It went from knocking on doors, to them already being open when we approached,’ he said.

“The funding came primarily from the provincial and federal governments — support that Tizya-Tramm emphasizes was certainly deserved. Aside from suffering under years of colonial oppression, he said the First Nation is helping Canada achieve its goals under the Paris climate accord.

“Watching the Vuntut Gwitchin’s climate renaissance, Tizya-Tramm couldn’t help but see a personal parable. ‘It’s a terminal diagnosis,’ he said of climate change. ‘The entire world as a species needs to make the journey I did as an individual.’ …

“Tizya-Tramm was born into a history of Indigenous trauma. … By 13 his parents had divorced, and Tizya-Tramm was attending school either high or on hallucinogens. He then progressed to dealing drugs himself, building a client base within his friends. Then there was the fighting — both in school and outside of it, where he would face people far older. … He robbed and was robbed. On a few occasions he was stabbed. Then a suicide attempt became multiple attempts.”

At the Post, here, you can read about the slow, painstaking steps that allowed Tizya-Tramm to put all that behind him and gradually become the leader he is today.

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Photo: Vanessa Nakate.
Vanessa Nakate’s book A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis recounts her journey as an environmental justice activist.

I continue to be impressed that people college age and younger are taking the lead on the critical issues of our time — gun control, climate change, inequality, everything. It is probably wrong to put pressure on them, but I do think they’re more likely to have answers — often because they don’t know what’s “impossible.” Older folks tend to believe things that have never been done are impossible. Young ones don’t.

At Living on Earth, Steve Curwood talks to a young Ugandan activist who has become a leader in fighting climate change.

“STEVE CURWOOD: Greta Thunberg started the Fridays For the Future climate strikes by sitting in front of the Swedish Parliament, and millions of people around the world ultimately joined her cause. One of them was Vanessa Nakate of Kampala, Uganda, who was just getting out of college at the time.

“Teenaged girls in Uganda don’t typically have the same social freedoms as many in the Global North have to be out on their own picketing and demonstrating. But at age 22 Vanessa Nakate could, as college age women have a lot more freedoms in her culture. And in the face of climate change, intensified floods and droughts that ravaged Uganda at the time, Vanessa was inspired by Greta to organize and start holding climate strike signs herself in front of the Ugandan Parliament.

“Greta Thunberg soon heard of Vanessa through social media and in January of 2020 Vanessa was invited to join Greta for a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But the Associated Press cropped Vanessa, the only black woman, out of a widely circulated photo that included Greta Thunberg and three other white European activists. Comments citing that editorial decision as racist soon went viral. And since that incident Vanessa has used her visibility to bring light to climate struggles in the Global South. In her book, A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis, Vanessa points to how climate change is impacting Africa and the short shrift that she and other people and nations of color receive at the UN climate talks. … [Vanessa] what kind of climate change effects are going on in Uganda? …

“VANESSA NAKATE: Uganda as a country heavily depends on agriculture for survival for many communities, especially those in the rural areas. But with the rising global temperatures, many people are threatened with floods, droughts and landslides, causing massive destruction, massive loss of lives, loss of homes, farms and businesses. … In the western part of the country in areas of Kasese, because of the rising global temperatures, many people have been displaced and still are living in camps because of extreme flooding.

“CURWOOD: Please tell me a story of a particular recent climate related incident. …

“NAKATE: I can talk about one that happened last year. During the pandemic in 2020. The water levels of Lake Victoria rose as a result of extreme rainfall. And many people were displaced from their homes at a time when they had to stay at home to keep themselves safe. And with the rise in the water levels. Not only were farms destroyed, but even toilets were submerged, causing contamination of water sources and threatening the livelihoods of very many people.

“CURWOOD: Now, you join Friday’s for the Future in your 20s Vanessa. And that movement was made up of well, mostly teenagers and younger folks, why did you choose to join? …

“NAKATE: This is a challenge for some of my friends, because most of them were just finished in college and in their 20s. So, we all had this feeling that this movement was a movement for teenagers. But to me, that wasn’t the issue. … I just wanted to demand for climate justice and to talk about the challenges that the people in my country were facing because of the climate crisis.

“CURWOOD: Vanessa, tell me about some of the projects that you’re working on now.

“NAKATE: In 2019, I started school project Vash Green Schools Project. [It] involves the installation of solar panels and ecofriendly cookstoves in schools. I started this project to help drive a transition to renewable energy in schools in Uganda, and also for the clean cooking stoves to reduce the firewood that schools were using for preparation of foods. Almost all the schools in my country use firewood for food preparation. But with these ecofriendly stoves, the number that is used is greatly cut. … So far we’ve done installations in 13 schools.

“CURWOOD: You write in your book that when you came actually to the UN, a couple of [bad] things happened. …

“NAKATE: One of the people was a part of the Ugandan delegation [who] asked if I can meet him and talk about my activism. [I met] members of parliament, and I remember one of them actually recognizing me and saying that I’ve seen you on TV, you’re the girl who strikes every Friday. And at that moment, I’m like, wait, you’ve seen me. And you haven’t even said anything about the activism that I’m doing. …

“For the UN Youth Climate Summit … I was told that I would have a speaking role. I worked on my speech. And I was just really happy to talk about the experiences of the people in my country. [Then] I’m told that, well, you’re actually not going to speak but you will just be able to, you know, be like in discussions with other young activists. And at that point, it was really a disappointment before I left and I couldn’t tell my family or my friends because they were very excited.

“[And after the Davos incident] I felt like everything that I said at the press conference … didn’t matter, like it just went into the air and immediately disappeared, and no one was really paying attention. …

“It’s important for people to know that, historically, Africa is responsible for only 3% of global emissions. And yet Africans are already suffering some of the most brutal impacts of the climate crisis. It’s also important to know that while Africa, while the global south, is on the frontlines of the climate crisis, it is not on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. And it’s also important to know that there are a number of activists in the African continent in the global south who are speaking up, who are demanding for justice from leaders, from governments, from corporations. … We want climate action from the leaders and our voices will not be silenced.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Westcountry_Hedgelayer/Instagram.
A newly laid hedge at a farm on Dartmoor, Devon.

I haven’t visited England in decades, so I didn’t realize it had gone through a period of ripping out its iconic hedgerows. How sad! But as Tom Wall writes at the Guardian, renewed interest in biodiversity is bringing them back.

“The emerald-green five-year-old hawthorn hedge glistens in autumnal sunshine. In the cider apple orchard and grass pastures below, younger hedges shoot off towards a fast-flowing trout stream.

“History has come full circle in Blackmore Farm, which nestles in the foothills of the Quantocks in Somerset. The owner, Ian Dyer, remembers helping his father, who arrived as a tenant farmer in the 1950s, grub out old hedges in the 1960s and 1970s. But – like increasing numbers of landowners – he has hired a hedgelayer to bring back his hedges to provide habitats for wildlife, capture carbon and slow water pouring off fields into rivers.

“ ‘In my life, I’ve probably taken out three miles of hedge. It was seen as progress at the time. The government was pushing for more and more production,’ he says, standing in the long grass on his 750-acre arable and beef farm. …

“Dyer, 62, has planted 1km of new hedges in the last five years and has noticed more insects, nesting birds and small mammals, including water voles, since the work started.

One study found that hedgerows provide 21 ecosystem services – more than any other habitat.

“ ‘My views have changed in the last 10 years. I want to live in a green and pleasant land – not in a [ecological] desert,’ he remarks. ‘It’s starting to look like I remember it as a five-year-old boy.’

“The National Hedgelaying Society, which held its national championship event this weekend, says its members have been inundated with requests to lay hedges this season, which runs from September to April. ‘There is more work than anyone could ever do for the rest of their lives,’ says Claire Maymon, one of the charity’s trustees. ‘Our founders in the 1970s were worried the craft would be lost for ever, but now we are worried that we don’t have enough young hedgelayers coming through to meet demand.’

“The Campaign to Protect Rural England estimates that over 25,000 workers will be needed to deliver on the Committee on Climate Change’s call to plant 200,000km of new hedges in the UK. The committee has calculated that the nation’s hedgerows will have to be expanded by 40% in order to reach net-zero by 2050. …

“The government wants the post-Brexit agricultural subsidy system to encourage farmers to better maintain hedges. A pilot scheme, offering farmers up to £24 per 100 metres of hedgerows, starts next month.

“Hedges need to be carefully managed throughout their lives, otherwise they thin and eventually gaps appear. Paul Lamb, the hedgelayer helping to transform Dyer’s farm, ‘pleaches’ – or splits – hawthorn, blackthorn and spindle stems so that they grow back dense and thick next spring. ‘Every hedgelayer has their own style,’ he says. … ‘For me, it’s so satisfying to plant and lay a hedge and then see it full of birds, insects and wildlife.’

“Business is booming for Lamb, who lives in a converted horsebox on a nearby farm. He has never been busier, with commercial farmers making up a growing proportion of his work. …

“ ‘When I started hedging, it was a way of earning a bit of beer money on a Saturday. I would never have expected to be booked up for a whole season. But here I am, booked up for this season and half of the next – and still people are phoning me with jobs. There is a renewed interest in conservation and craft – and a feeling that we need to live in a more sustainable way.’

“Britain lost half its hedgerows in the decades after the second world war as farmers were encouraged to create large arable fields to increase production. Since then, legal protections have been introduced and hedges are no longer being ripped out – but the decline has continued due to poor management, including some landowners over-trimming hedges mechanically, without simulating new growth below. But the growing demand for traditional hedgelaying leaves many in the craft feeling optimistic.

“Nigel Adams sits on the HedgeLink steering group, which advises [the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs]. He says there has has been a sea-change in attitudes, with everyone from the National Farming Union to Natural England calling for more hedges. …

“Adams, who lays hedges throughout the country, including on Prince Charles’s estates, believes the role of hedges should not be underestimated. ‘Insects follow hedges and bats hunt along hedges,’ he says. ‘If we didn’t have hedgerows, then we would be living in a barren wasteland.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. Since the Guardian is free, you have access to the pictures, too. I think you are going to love the water vole there.

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Photo: Georgi Mabee/RHS/PA.
A compost bin in the Cop26 garden at last year’s Chelsea flower show. This year, designers have been asked to include biodiverse elements in their exhibitions.

I was talking to Jeanne yesterday about her yeoman’s effort to keep in place the restrictions on those gas-powered leaf blowers we all hate for noise reasons or health reasons or climate reasons. Town meeting voted to outlaw professional landscapers’ leaf blowers by 2025 and personal ones by 2026.

But in the blink of an eye, landscapers, claiming inaccurately that no one had consulted them, acquired enough signatures to bring the issue before town meeting again this year. I asked where they got the signatures. Customers. It seems that most people in this often forward-thinking town can’t live without a leafless vista in front of their house and don’t want to put the lawn service to the trouble of getting the cheaper electric blowers that would save their immigrant workers from diseases and help the environment.

As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Given that her neighbors want leafless lawns, Jeanne is not focusing on the biodiversity trend that encourages homeowners to let the leaves stay and fertilize the soil. But the idea is taking hold elsewhere. Consider the displays at the Chelsea (UK) garden show.

From Helena Horton at the Guardian:

While many expect to see rows of bright flowers and pillowy blossoms at the Chelsea flower show, this year star gardens will also feature such biodiverse elements as fungi and a beaver habitat.

“Garden designers at the annual Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) show have been asked to consider the environment when making their entries. Though many of the traditional aspects of the show, including the prize flowers in the Great Pavilion, remain, many gardens focus on nature rather than conventional manicured beauty.

“For the first time, the gardening power of beavers will be displayed at the show. The Rewilding Britain Landscape garden, by the designers Lulu Urquhart and Adam Hunt, will demonstrate how the rodents tend the landscape and let biodiversity thrive.

“Beavers became extinct in the UK 400 years ago, and only in recent years have they been reintroduced to parts of the country. … It will feature a beaver dam, and a pool with a lodge behind, and show off a ‘riparian meadow’ of the sort beavers create when they partially flood a riverbank and attract pollinators and other wildlife. …

“Favourite trees of beavers, including hazel and field maples, have been chosen for the garden, as well as native wildflowers and plants that encourage and support trees such as hawthorn and alder, which provide winter food for many birds and support dozens of insect species.

“Rather than flowers, the designer Joe Perkins has decided to show off a range of fungi to highlight the ‘inseparable connection between plants and fungi within woodland ecosystems.’

“In between buying new roses and water features for their gardens, attenders will learn about the complex mycelium networks that connect and support woodland life. … The garden will also include species that are used to warmer climates, to highlight how our planting may have to change as a result of a warming planet.

“While most at the show, to be held in May in the grounds of the Royal hospital, Chelsea, usually focus on what grows in the soil, the dirt itself is the star of the new Blue Peter garden. The designer, Juliet Sergeant, is hoping to ‘open the eyes of children and adults to the role of soil in supporting life and its potential to help in our fight against climate change.’

“The garden will feature a subterranean chamber, which will show a soil animation, and soil-themed art by the children of Salford. It also features a roof-top meadow and barley field with common spotted and southern marsh orchids and a two-tonne tree on the planted roof, showing the wide variety of plants that good healthy soil can sustain. …

“Also at the show is a foraging garden by Howard Miller, for the Alder Hey children’s hospital. … The garden will heavily feature heather and bilberries. Miller said: ‘One of my favourite childhood memories is going to pick bilberries with my grandparents. My grandpa Harold had a habit of counting 1,000 bilberries into a bag before he would allow himself to talk to us. My grandma Mary and I would sit and eat the bilberries while he wasn’t looking.

“ ‘The smell of sitting in among heather and bilberries just transports me to that moment. So the takeaway I would like people to have is to give foraging a try, it’s free, it’s good for the soul and it’s a great excuse to connect with nature and each other.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia.
The forested western slopes of Washington State’s Fidalgo Island overlook the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The pandemic may have distracted you and me from the environmental crisis, but many indigenous tribes have tackled Covid while also keeping their eye on the ball. In this article from the Washington Post, Jim Morrison explains that for the Swinomish people, it has something to do with their holistic world view.

“For 10,000 years,” he writes, “the Swinomish tribe has fished the waters of northwestern Washington, relying on the bounty of salmon and shellfish not only as a staple of its diet but as a centerpiece of its culture. At the beginning of the fishing season, the tribe gathers on the beach for a First Salmon ceremony, a feast honoring the return of the migratory fish that binds the generations of a tribe that calls itself the People of the Salmon.

“At the ceremony’s conclusion, single salmon are ferried by boat in four directions — north to Padilla Bay, east to the Skagit River, south to Skagit Bay and west to Deception Pass — and eased into the water with a prayer that they will tell other salmon how well they were treated.

“In recent years, though, the tribe’s harvest, diminished by vanishing habitat and warming waters fueled by climate change, hasn’t been sufficient to feed the hundreds of people who come to pay homage to their ancestors and to the fish that sustained them.

“ ‘We don’t have that abundance anymore,’ said Lorraine Loomis, an elder who has managed the tribal fishery for 40 years. ‘To get ceremonial fish, we buy it and freeze it.’

“For the Swinomish, perched on a vulnerable, low-lying reservation on Fidalgo Island, the effects of a warming world have been a gut punch.

“The tribe has responded with an ambitious, multipronged strategy to battle climate change and improve the health of the land and the water and the plants, animals and people who thrived in harmony for generations. In 2010, the Swinomish became one of the first communities to assess the problems posed by a warming planet and enact a climate action plan. An additional 50 Native American tribes have followed, creating climate strategies to protect their lands and cultures, ahead of most U.S. communities.

“The Swinomish see the tasks beyond addressing shoreline risk and restoring habitats. They look at climate adaptation and resilience with the eyes of countless generations. They recognize that the endangered ‘first foods’ — clams, oysters, elk, traditional plants and salmon — are not mere resources to be consumed. They are central to their values, beliefs and practices and, therefore, to their spiritual, cultural and community well-being.

“Loomis is 80. Every member of her family, from her grandfather to her nine great-grandchildren, has fished the tribe’s ancestral waters. She has watched over the decades as the salmon disappeared and her family turned to crab, geoduck and sea cucumbers. She’s seen the salmon season drop to only a few days per species from the eight months — May through December — of decades past in order to protect populations. The Skagit River is the last waterway in the continental United States that’s home to all five species of Pacific salmon.

“Progress has been slow; some researchers say it could be 90 years before the salmon recover. Loomis is taking the long view. ‘If I didn’t believe we would recover [the fishery], I guess I wouldn’t still be working on this,’ she said.

“In recent years, the tribe has fostered salmon recovery through a variety of projects. It has restored tidelands and channels, planted trees along streambeds to cool warming waters, and collaborated with farmers to increase stream setbacks to improve water quality.

“Restoring salmon populations is just part of an ambitious climate action plan to blunt the effects of increased flooding, ocean acidification, rising river temperatures, more-destructive storms and habitat loss.

“The Swinomish are rebuilding oyster reefs for the native Olympia oyster. They’re planning the first modern clam garden in the United States on the reservation’s tidelands, reviving an ancient practice. They’re monitoring deer and elk populations through camera traps to understand the climate change pressures and to inform hunting limits. And they have ongoing wetland restoration projects to explore preserving native plants and to help naturally manage coastal flooding.

“ ‘They’re doing really innovative climate adaptation,’ said Meade Krosby, a senior scientist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. ‘They were way ahead of the curve.’ …

“Their plans merge traditional and academic resources. When looking at ways to protect wetlands, Todd Mitchell, the tribe’s director of environmental protection, discovered that knowledge about traditional plantings passed down through the generations was lost. So he turned to the University of Washington, which had archived notes by ethnographers and anthropologists who had interviewed tribe elders in the 1950s and 1960s.

“A tribal member who earned a geology degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree at Washington State University, Mitchell returned to work for the tribe 20 years ago. ‘I think the missing piece [is] how to take this straight-up science in the academic sense and put it together with traditional knowledge.’ …

“Jamie Donatuto, the tribe’s environmental health officer, and Larry Campbell, a 71-year-old tribal elder, have created a tool, Indigenous Health Indicators, that goes beyond typical morbidity and mortality measures and considers ecosystem health, social and cultural beliefs, and values integral to a community. …

“Seen through that lens, restoring ‘first foods’ is important not just for diet and nutrition but for nourishment of the soul. Living somewhere for a long time fosters a sense of place, and a sense of place fosters stewardship.

“ ‘It’s a different worldview,’ said Donatuto, who has a doctorate in resource management and environmental sustainability from the University of British Columbia. ‘The salmon and the crabs and the clams are relatives. They’re living relatives. They’re not just resources. And so you treat them with a symbiotic respect. They feed you because you take care of them. It’s a very different way of thinking about why these areas are important.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: benedek/Getty Images.
Downtown Ithaca, New York. The city has a plan to lower the climate footprint of thousands of buildings across the city.

My family is trying to disentangle itself from fossil fuels. Too slowly, I fear. I have a hybrid car, and my husband has been working with an electrician to change out the gas stove for an electric one. Suzanne and Erik are looking into electric for cooking, too. John has an all-electric car and solar panels on the roof.

The thing is, I’m sure I would have started this process much sooner if I had realized earlier that gas was bad. I’ve been in my current home nearly 40 years, and I assure you that 40 years ago, I hadn’t a clue.

In Ithaca, New York, there are people who had a clue long before I did, as Mike De Socio reported at the Guardian in August.

“When Fred Schoeps bought a 150-year-old building in downtown Ithaca, New York, a decade ago, he was one of only a handful of building owners dedicated to ending their reliance on fossil fuels and reducing their carbon footprint.

“His three-year renovation of the building, comprising three apartments above a skate store, included installing energy-efficient windows and insulation, plus fully electric appliances, heating and cooling systems.

“But while that was an achievement on its own, said Schoeps, Ithaca cannot address climate change one building at a time. ‘In order to move the needle, you’ve got to think in terms of a thousand [buildings],’ he said.

“Luis Aguirre-Torres, Ithaca’s new director of sustainability, is trying to do exactly that. The upstate New York city of 30,000, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, adopted a Green New Deal in 2019, a big part of which involves decarbonizing thousands of privately owned commercial and residential buildings across the city.

“Ithaca’s main climate objective is to eliminate or offset all of its carbon emissions ​​by 2030. The focus on retrofitting buildings – installing electric heating systems, solar panels and battery storage as well as reducing energy use and greening the electric grid – promises to tackle an often-overlooked but significant contributor to climate change:

buildings make up nearly 40% of US carbon emissions. …

“Ithaca is exploring a new solution to fund and motivate building owners to decarbonize: private equity.

“Aguirre-Torres has helped Ithaca – which has a total budget of less than $80m – raise $100m by offering investors entry to a large-scale program he pitched as low risk with the potential for lots of cashflow. The goal is to create a lending program providing low- or no-interest loans and quick implementation of sustainable technology. …

“For most homeowners, the program would help them swap out a gas furnace for an electric heat pump, or a gas stove for an electric one – changes that would otherwise involve high upfront costs. Aguirre-Torres says the program will also train a new green workforce in Ithaca. …

“The plan aims to create 1,000 new jobs by 2030, and the city has promised to redirect 50% of the financial benefits of its Green New Deal plan to low-income residents, although there are few specifics on how this will work.

“Conversations with investors started earlier this year. Covid-19 had already battered Ithaca’s finances, said Aguirre-Torres, and it was clear the city would never be able to fund this energy transformation alone.

“These discussions quickly revealed a problem: how do you keep a lending program affordable? ‘What we needed to do was bring down the cost of capital even further,’ Aguirre-Torres said.

“The city is addressing this by trying to reduce risk. It aims to create an economy of scale by sizing the program for 1,000 commercial and residential buildings in the first 1,000 days, which will mean more consistent work for contractors and lower material costs. Ithaca plans to use a $10m loan loss reserve, backed by New York state, that would act as a guarantee for lenders in case any borrower defaults. It will also secure insurance to protect against catastrophic losses,’ such as a massive default due to another pandemic, Aguirre-Torres said. …

“Ithaca’s reliance on private equity may be new, but the cash incentives and on-bill repayment programs have precedent in states around the country, such as New York and California.

” ‘We’ve seen this work,’ said Ethan Elkind, the director of the climate program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment. Utilities and municipalities have long been offering upfront dollars to ratepayers to encourage them to upgrade lightbulbs or home insulation.

“However, these types of improvements may be an easier sell than swapping out a gas range or fireplace. Consumer preference for natural gas appliances is one of the biggest barriers to home electrification. Cost is another. ‘If you have the money to do something to your house, putting in a new bathroom or kitchen is much more appealing to people than an invisible efficiency upgrade that pays for itself over eight years,’ Elkind said.

“Anne Rhodes has a different view, however. The 76-year-old Ithaca homeowner, who earns about $20,000 a year, is using an existing state incentive program to insulate her home and replace her oil heating system with electric heat pumps. In addition to the climate impact, she said the upgrades will make her home more comfortable to live in.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: CC BY-NC 2.0.
Australian ash forests are home to many species, including arboreal species like the Greater Glider.

Speaking of damage to forests, remember the terrible bushfires in Australia just before the pandemic — all those pictures of traumatized koalas!

Well, as worried as I am about the environment right now, I’m going to focus on what Mister Rogers said his mother told him when there were tragedies in the world: “Look for the helpers.”

The radio show Living on Earth (2/7/20) tells us that helpers rose up in Australia to rebuild the eucalyptus and ash forests when helpers were needed.

“After years of repeated bushfires, some of Australia’s eucalyptus forests can no longer come back on their own, so humans are giving them a helping hand by carefully collecting and distributing their seeds. Owen Bassett of Forest Solutions and host Bobby Bascomb discuss how the reseeding works, and the impacts of prolonged drought and climate change on Australian forests. …

“BASCOMB: Bushfires have burned through dry habitats home to many of Australia’s most iconic species, like koalas, kangaroos, and wallabies. They’ve even burned the more humid eucalyptus forests, home to the lyre bird, lead beater possum, and the great glider – an animal so adorable it’s been nicknamed a flying teddy bear. Some of these humid forests aren’t naturally equipped to deal with frequent fires and are struggling to grow back on their own. … Owen Bassett is Director of Forest Solutions, which is helping the government reseed forests in Victoria and New South Wales. He joins us from Melbourne, Victoria. Owen, … please describe the forests where you work. What do they look like and what does it feel like to be there?

“BASSETT: [The] forests that I work in are tall mountain forests, they’re known as ash forest. I suppose in terms of stature they’re similar to your California redwoods. So they’re very tall, very large trees and sort of a wet forest. [You] might think that a lot of Australia is covered in dry forest; most of it is, of course, and most of it is arid, but along the southeast corner, we have beautiful wet forests that run up the Great Dividing Range and they are gorgeous to be in. They’re cool, they’re damp, full of great native wildlife. …

“We have all of those marsupials that you American people know about, the jumping ones and the kangaroos; we have a species, or a number of species of wallaby that live in those forests. And we also have arboreals, so these are mammals that live up in the canopy of the forest. And then we have this magnificent songster, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the superb lyrebird. It has the capacity to mimic a whole range of birds and sounds that it hears in the forest. And it’s an absolute joy to listen to them. …

“BASCOMB: I think we actually have some recordings of the lyrebird we can play here. Let’s have a listen.

“[They] have the ability to imitate the shutter sound of cameras. They can imitate the sounds of chainsaws, dogs barking, all sorts of things like that. But the main repertoire is, is the full suite of other birds that are, and animal sounds that are in the forest.

“BASCOMB: So you mention that this is a very wet forest. Why is it burning now, and how common is that? …

“BASSETT: All eucalypts have evolved with fire, so fire is part of the environment here in Australia, a little bit like your California. But the thing is that, you know, we do have a changing climate here at the moment, a drying climate. And we’re currently caught in this real cycle of droughts, okay, so, in southeast Australia, we had this mammoth drought. We refer to it as the Millennial Drought. It went for 12 years, from 1997 to 2009. So what that left was this huge legacy of soil moisture deficit. … The species needs at least 20 years to be able to then reproduce, because young trees don’t flower. … We [have] forests that are at the stage of population collapse. Classically, it occurs in species like alpine ash and mountain ash that, you know, require much longer periods of fire intervals to survive.

“BASCOMB: So it sounds like if there was no intervention, these forests would likely turn into some different type of ecosystem altogether, maybe savanna or grassland or something like that. …

“BASSETT: These species are obligate seeders — if we have enough seed, and we have the means to spread that seed where the forest is going to experience population collapse, then we can intervene, lay seed on the ground or sow seed on the ground, and these forests will return. But it’s easier said than done. So we have to collect the seed, we have to distribute the seed, and that’s a mammoth operation. …

“BASSETT: Mountain ash, for example, is the tallest flowering plant in the world. And every year I go up in a light aircraft, and I actually map the distribution of the flowering. So once it’s flowered and we know where it is in the landscape, one year later, we can expect that there will be seed there. And so at that point, we send climb teams in and they climb these tall 80-meter trees. And they de-limb, just [to] keep the tree alive. We … take just a section of that crown out and from that, we can pick the seed pods, if you like. They’re sent away and the seeds extracted from that fruit or those pods. The seed looks a little bit like coarse pepper, so tiny seeds, the seeds are not, not big and it’s extraordinary to think that such a tall tree, something akin to your California redwoods, comes from this tiny, tiny piece of cracked-pepper size seed.”

“BASSETT: Yeah. So the concept of a seed bank is one that, you know, you put some seed away for a rainy day. We needed 10 tonnes of seed this year. At the moment, we might have a third, maybe to a half of that. Now I’ve been advocating for a seed bank for about 10 years, and the state government has only ever funded small seed collection operations that were emergency in nature, if you like. “Okay, we’ve got a bushfire, we’d better go and get some seed.”

Read what happens next at Living on Earth, here. There’s more at the Australian tree seed centre, too.

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Goat vs. Wildfire

Photo: Goat Green LLC.
Lani Malmberg “contracts with federal, state, county, and city governments, homeowners associations, and private landowners for noxious weed control, fire fuel load abatement, re-seeding, watershed management, and land restoration.

While we’re on the subject of fungi and their role in improving soil, how about the work that goats are doing? Goats are not as ubiquitous as mushrooms, but they can really help restore damaged land and even prevent wildfires.

Coral Murphy Marcos reports at the New York Times, “When megafires burn in unison and harsh droughts parch the West, local governments, utilities and companies struggle with how to prevent outbreaks, especially as each year brings record destruction.

“Carrying an unconventional weapon, Ms. Malmberg travels the American West in an Arctic Fox camper, occupying a small but vital entrepreneurial niche.

“Ms. Malmberg, 64, is a goat herder and a pioneer in using the animals to restore fire-ravaged lands to greener pastures and make them less prone to the spread of blazes. She developed the fire-prevention technique in graduate school and is among a few individuals using grazing methods for fire mitigation. …

“Ms. Malmberg works with her son, Donny Benz; his fiancé, Kaiti Singley; and an occasional unpaid intern. The team runs on the goats’ time and have their dinner only when the day’s job is done. They arrive early and open the trailer. The goats jump out, ready to eat, as Ms. Malmberg watches that they don’t stray. The team sets up an electric fence to confine the goats and their meals to a specific area overnight.

After the goats digest the brush, their waste returns organic matter to the soil, increasing its potential to hold water.

“Goats are browsers that eat the grass, leaves and tall brush that cows and other grazers can’t reach. This type of vegetation is known as the fire fuel ladder and leads to wider spread when wildfires spark. More than quell a fire, Ms. Malmberg aims to prevent it from even starting. ‘By increasing soil organic matter by 1 percent, that soil can hold an additional 16,500 gallons of water per acre,’ said Ms. Malmberg. ‘If helicopters come and dump water on the fires, nothing is done for the soil.’ …

“ ‘Lani is a leading example of someone who has carved the pathway and is a trailblazer in this industry of prescribed grazing,’ said Brittany Cole-Bush, one of Ms. Malmberg’s mentees and the owner of Shepherdess Land and Livestock in Ojai Valley, Calif. ‘We want to support ecology as much as possible. We want to support the growth of native perennial grasses.’ Ms. Cole-Bush, who uses goats and sheep in her business, believes that fortifying perennial grasses, rather than planting grass annually, will make the land more tolerant of drought.

“Ms. Malmberg, who has a master’s degree in weed science from Colorado State University, spends most of the year traveling around the West on jobs. Last year, for the first time, the Bureau of Land Management contracted Ms. Malmberg and her goats for fire mitigation in Carbondale, Colo. …

“Ms. Malmberg’s assignments can take anywhere from a day to six months; she prices them after evaluating the site. In late August, she was hired to work on a property in Silverthorne that took six days and cost more than $9,000.

“At the beginning and end of every job, Ms. Malmberg asks the spirits in the area to protect her herd. She lights a ceremonial stick of tobacco and calls out to introduce herself, an intruder on the land, to the animals living there. …

“The work can take longer because of on-the-ground conditions. The Carbondale mitigation project was pushed back three weeks because mudslides caused by last year’s wildfires had closed Interstate 70, the state’s main highway

“Scientists say that wildfires have become hotter, more intense and more destructive in recent years.

“Experts attribute the longer and more ferocious fire seasons to climate change. Wildfires in the West are growing larger, spreading faster and reaching higher, scaling mountains that were once too wet and cool to support them. Studies have shown that wildfires are leading to skin damage and premature births.

“The cost of fire suppression has doubled since 1994 to over $400 million in 2018 — a cost, Ms. Malmberg notes, that doesn’t account for how people are affected by the loss of their land and homes.

“ ‘How do we value the nest that supports us?” Ms. Malmberg asked. ‘We’re just about out of time to change the ways of how we do things.’ ”

Amanda Lucier’s excellent photos of Malmberg’s work are at the New York Times, here. You can also search this blog on the word “goat” for related stories. I’m kind of a fan of goats.

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Last night my husband reported that Massachusetts had just experienced its wettest July ever, breaking the record set in 1938.

Now, if you live in New England, you have no need to be told what happened in 1938. Most of us call it the Hurricane of ’38, and many books have been written about it. The one I loved had the awesome title A Wind to Shake the World. My mother experienced that wind firsthand.

But today’s post is not about hurricanes: its about wet weather and what follows it. Because lately on my walks, I’ve been noticing an unusual number and variety of mushrooms blooming in the wet. (Does one say “blooming” in regard to mushrooms? Let’s say they are “mushrooming.”)

I’ve blogged about mushrooms before. Last year’s Love for Fungi post described how these natural wonders “knit Earth’s soils into nearly contiguous living networks of unfathomable scale” and may ultimately save the planet.

I love the idea of anything knitting the world together without boundaries. Just imagine how wonderful it would be if we took the concept a step farther and began advocating for earthworm diplomacy — a kind of interaction among nations recognizing that certain aspects of borders are about as meaningless for humans as they are for an earthworm. Consider Covid. Consider climate change.

Anyway, here are the kinds of mushrooms our wettest July has engendered: speckled, yellow, red, blue , bizarre … I wind up with a window photo of something Lena Takamori, a mushroom-inspired artist, created.

Would love to see mushrooms from where you live.

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