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Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

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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Photo: Meadowscaping for Biodiversity.
Laura D. Eisener, Massachusetts landscape architect and Meadowscaping design consultant, believes in giving people the skills to create their own environmentally sound landscapes.

For years now, my friend Jean has been spreading the word on biodiversity and the problems posed by our lawns. I think that Jean and her business partner, Barbara, have been especially savvy in teaching the principles of biodiversity to middle school kids in particular. It’s one way to influence a generation of parents addicted to lawn chemicals and at the same time raise the consciousness of a generation that will be responsible for the planet’s future.

Tik Root writes on biodiversity and lawns at the Washington Post: “For many Americans, [summer] means blankets of grassy green for kids to play in, or families to picnic on.

“There are an estimated 40 million to 50 million acres of lawn in the continental United States — that’s nearly as much as all of the country’s national parks combined. In 2020, Americans spent $105 billion keeping their lawns verdant and neat. But our grass addiction comes at an environmental cost.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, maintaining those lawns also consumes nearly 3 trillion gallons of water a year as well as 59 million pounds of pesticides, which can seep into our land and waterways.

“Department of Transportation data shows that in 2018, Americans used nearly 3 billion gallons of gasoline running lawn and garden equipment. That’s the equivalent of 6 million passenger cars running for a year.

“As these issues are becoming more prominent in climate change discussion, there are steps you can take to more sustainably manage the impact of your lawn. … Having less grass and more plants is among the most important factors in keeping a yard eco-friendly.

“ ‘Lawn, ecologically, is dead space,’ said Doug Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware and author of ‘Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.’

“The solution, he says, is ultimately less lawn. He recommends people aim to cut the amount of turf grass in their yard in half. … Laying down mulch is one place to start. It quickly kills grass and offers a blank canvas for planting. … Invasive plants, Tallamy said, ‘are ecologically castrating the land around us.’ Native plants, on the other hand, often have deep root structures, making them good for storing water or providing drainage. They have also co-evolved for local conditions. …

“Eric Braun, the water resources manager for the town of Gilbert, Ariz., is quick to emphasize that water-friendly landscapes, also known as xeriscapes, don’t have to look like moonscapes.

“ ‘Xeriscape doesn’t mean one saguaro and a cow skull. It can be very lush and inviting,’ said Braun. ‘The number one thing was showing people that it can be a beautiful landscape.’ he said. …

“More broadly, Tallamy said native landscapes can help refocus our gardens on the ecological purpose of plants, which is to produce food. Plant energy gets passed up the food chain, often via insects. But many insects only eat one native plant species, or group of related plants. So, if we are planting nonnative plants, that food doesn’t necessarily transfer from creature to creature, and the ecosystem can stall.

Monarch butterflies, for example, famously rely on milkweed, and as the plant has become less abundant, the monarch population has plummeted. Bird species are also in decline, as are more than 40 percent of insect species. The United Nations estimates that, globally, 1 million plant and animal species are under threat of extinction.

“Tallamy said native flora better supports native fauna and, as a result, helps combat these declines. Tallamy is a fan of oak trees, which come in 91 native species, grow almost everywhere in the country and attract caterpillars, a key species for supporting other wildlife — to raise a clutch of chicks, a pair of robins needs between 6,000 caterpillars and 9,000 caterpillars in just 16 days, Tallamy said. …

“Others put less emphasis on nativity, and more on the diversity of species and types of plants in a yard.

” ‘Yes, we want natives but let’s be inclusive and not exclude plants that have come from somewhere,’ said Juliet Stromberg, a professor at Arizona State University, who was one of more than a dozen ecologists who wrote a letter arguing that a plant’s origin is less important than its environmental impact.

“ ‘What I would suggest is just loosening the reins a little bit,’ she said. ‘If you’re bringing in the plant that’s the same genus, the insects are going to be fine.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Hugh Warwick.
Hugh Warwick has collected over a million signatures calling for legislation to require planners and construction companies to create “hedgehog highways”

When we lived in Minneapolis, we had friends with a pet hedgehog called Hazel. I didn’t know if there were any rules about keeping hedgehogs as pets in those days. All I knew was that hedgehogs were adorable. And the way they curled up in a ball when anxious reminded me of myself. Or an ostrich.

Time to give up our ostrich behavior and do something about hedgehogs’ loss of habitat. Shafi Musaddique has a report at the Christian Science Monitor.

“Jo Wilkinson realized she was losing her students’ attention, so she turned to an old friend: the hedgehog. As a sustainability and engagement officer at Britain’s University of Sheffield, she wanted to rally students around sustainable foods and energy conservation. But it could be hard to hold students’ interest. That was until she proposed building a ‘hedgehog safari’ trail on campus. …

“ ‘I recognized straightaway that hedgehogs captured everyone’s imagination,’ says Ms. Wilkinson. ‘There’s something about them that does that to people.’

“Her effort to expand hedgehog habitats at Sheffield earned British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) funding in 2019. … Within 18 months, she had a fully funded national project that has certified 110 ‘hedgehog-friendly’ campuses across the country. …

“Britain’s hedgehogs need all the help they can get. The country’s ‘red lists’ categorize species based on how threatened they are. Hedgehogs joined the lists in 2020, officially classified as vulnerable to extinction. But advocates and organizations like Ms. Wilkinson and BHPS, which maintains her Hedgehog Friendly Campus accreditation program, are working to save the iconic British garden dweller.

“Researchers estimate there were about 1.5 million hedgehogs across England, Scotland, and Wales collectively in the mid-1990s.

The population size is difficult to keep track of, but studies show that British hedgehog numbers in rural areas have declined by 50% since 2000, though in cities and towns the decline is closer to 30%.

“ ‘It’s almost as if hedgehogs are moving out and doing the opposite of humans,’ says Ms. Wilkinson. ‘They’re moving into towns and cities because perhaps those places are providing them a bit of a refuge.’ Hedgehogs tend to follow people, she says, and have found that they can scavenge on cat and dog food in gardens. …

“That’s become more valuable as rural areas have lost wildflowers, bramble patches, and leaf and log piles in the countryside. Pesticides from intensive, modern farming practices and ‘habitat fragmentation’ – the ‘chopping up’ of Britain’s landscape into smaller pieces – have added to the rural challenges facing hedgehogs, says Hugh Warwick, author of four books dedicated to the spiky critters.

“The self-dubbed hedgehog connoisseur leads the fight in finding solutions to the destruction of hedgehog habitats due to ‘manicured gardens.’ From his garden shed in Oxford, Mr. Warwick has drummed up over a million signatures for a petition calling for British planning law requiring all new developments to include ‘hedgehog highways’: holes to allow hedgehogs to move freely between gardens.

“Mr. Warwick – once described by a British politician as the ‘Lorax of hedgehogs’ in reference to Dr. Seuss’ literary character who ‘speaks for the trees’ and fights suburban development – has managed to convince the government to change planning law guidance through his petition and online campaigning. …

“[The] hamlet of Kirtlington has already devised a hedgehog highway featuring eccentric holes, miniature stairs, and knocked-down walls that knit gardens together. Villagers took a map of the hamlet and spent time working out the minimum number of holes to connect a maximum number of gardens. A map of the hedgehog highway helps tourists trace the paths of the tiny inhabitants. … Recognizing the threat toward one of the U.K.’s favorite creatures is an opportunity for people to reconnect with their surroundings.

“For Ryan Wallace, sustainability officer at the University of London, which is part of the Hedgehog Friendly Campus initiative, that means ensuring hedgehogs thrive in the most unlikely of places: central London. Though surrounded by Regency-era houses and within walking distance of busy tourist attractions, the public squares of Bloomsbury offer overgrown bushes and ample foliage. That makes them – and the neighboring university – fertile ground for hedgehogs, though none were seen last year.

“ ‘They can travel up to 2 miles through the streets of London,’ says Mr. Wallace. … ‘Hedgehogs have loads of benefits people don’t realize. They keep the slug population down, and they’re natural pest killers,’ he says. ‘They’re also a good indicator of how well the natural environment is doing.’ …

“ ‘If there’s a space in your garden where you can let the weeds grow, do that and stop cutting the grass,’ says Ms. Wilkinson. ‘Let nature be nature.’ …

“[At] Nottingham Trent University, a ‘bronze-winning’ Hedgehog Friendly Campus … the school’s sustainable development projects officer has plans to add special hedgehog accommodations like ramps to provide safe exit from ponds. ‘They can swim really well, but they get tired,’ she says. ‘If they can’t climb out, they’ll get into trouble.’ …

“For many advocates, hedgehog conservation isn’t just about the survival of a species. It’s a chance to connect with bigger environmental issues such as climate change. ‘You can start with hedgehogs, because that doesn’t scare people off. Everybody has an anecdote about a hedgehog.’ “

Do you?

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Valmeyer, Illinois, “was overwhelmed by a 100 year flood event in 1993. Townspeople wanted to stay together and decided to move their town 2 miles away and about 400 feet up.”

Floods are creating havoc in Europe right now, and even where I live, there are daily warnings about rising rivers. These and other dramatic weather events are being blamed on climate change. The problems will only increase, so what to do? For one thing, stop putting everything back the way it was before a flood.

I really admire the pragmatism of oft-flooded Vameyer, Illinois, which bit the bullet and moved the whole town.

Doug Struck has the story at the Christian Science Monitor. “It was 1:30 a.m. Dennis Knobloch stood at the top of a hillside cemetery – ‘that cemetery right there,’ he says, pointing over his shoulder. The water was coming. He and others from the town had worked for weeks, sandbagging levees, bulldozing rock and rubble, to try to hold the swelling river. They had failed. His radio crackled: The last levee was gone.

“ ‘It’s your call, mayor,’ the utility chief said. 

“Mr. Knobloch gave the order: Cut the power. He watched as the town below him – his town – flickered to dark, street by street, engulfed by the night and the Mississippi River.

“ ‘It was the hardest thing I did in my life,’ the former mayor says now. 

“Hundreds of small Midwest towns like Valmeyer were caught in the Great Flood of 1993. Unlike most of the others, the survival of Valmeyer – born anew, 2 miles away in a cornfield about 400 feet higher – is getting renewed interest 28 years later. …

“The planners look at the trends and say a pullback from vulnerable areas is inevitable. Call it ‘managed retreat.’ Last year in the United States, 1.7 million people had to flee natural disasters, and many found they could not return to their homes. The trends are expected to accelerate.

“ ‘Valmeyer remains the poster child of managed retreat in the U.S. up to the present,’ says Nicholas Pinter, a professor and associate director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at University of California, Davis.

“There have been dozens of complete or partial relocations of towns in American history, Dr. Pinter writes in the journal Issues in Science and Technology. Many were of Native American or Alaskan Inuit communities that were in vulnerable locations to start.

Other towns have repeatedly fled rivers – Niobrara, Nebraska, hauled its houses by horse and wagon away from flooding in the Missouri River in 1881 and moved again in 1971.

“But many proposed relocations did not succeed. Valmeyer did, with a few asterisks. 

“ ‘They made it happen. It wasn’t a bunch of ivory tower or Washington, D.C., experts,’ says Dr. Pinter.

“When the floods overtopped the levees in August 1993, half of Valmeyer, 30 miles south of St. Louis, was plunged under 14 feet of water. The other half on the sloped terrain left houses holding a foot to 8 feet of water. 

“The town had flooded three times before in the 1940s, cleaned up, and survived. This was different. The floodwaters stayed long enough to become fetid, the houses full of rotting debris and mold. A second crest hit a month later.

“ ‘The smell. I can’t describe the smell. I’ll never forget it,’ says Susie Dillenberger, who lived by one of the levees. She recalls barges bringing rock and rubble up the river to try to reinforce the barrier as the water rose. She worked with other volunteers to fill sandbags. She slept with her family in one room in case they had to flee suddenly. … They labored until a mandatory evacuation was declared and the river rose in their vacated houses.

“As the townsfolk waited they stayed with friends or relatives – and eventually in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, quickly nicknamed “FEMAville.” And they met in the school gyms of nearby towns to begin to think of what to do. As the receding river revealed its damage, the concept of moving the whole town took shape.

” ‘We took the idea to the residents,’ recalls Mr. Knobloch, an investment and insurance broker who four months earlier had been reelected mayor. ‘We said we have no idea how to do this, and no idea if it’s going to work. We’re not even sure yet what’s involved. But if we try it, will you be willing to be a part of it?’ 

“Nearly 70% of the people said yes. Many had grown up in Valmeyer, and had families there for two or three generations. ‘They didn’t want to see the town go away,’ he says.

“Soon they focused on a 500-acre cornfield on a bluff 2 miles away. Residents split into a bevy of committees to work with planners, engineers, and architects. Within two months, Mr. Knobloch went to Washington with printed plans drawn up by the townsfolk, and asked for money. The politicians were impressed.

“Eventually, state and federal governments pledged about 80% of the $33 million cost. The town bought the land on the bluff, pulled numbers from a hat to lottery off lots, and began construction. Mr. Knobloch quit his job – his wife, a microbiologist, supported the family – and worked full time through all the permits, planning, and problems of creating a town from nothing.

“They dealt with 22 agencies, unexpected limestone sinkholes, protected bat species, and a hurried archaeological excavation when Native American artifacts were found. …

“Looking back on it now, with what we were able to achieve, to keep the community together and keep the people together – definitely, it was well worth the time and effort.’ “

Read about both upsides and downsides — and about the people who chose to stay put — at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: PCA Architecture.
The Champs-Élysées will be returned to the French people with wider pavements, bicycle lanes, and more green spaces,” says PCA Architecture.

This post is about a more pedestrian-friendly vision for Paris, but as far as I can tell, it’s still in the imagining stage. Covid, ironically, has helped move things along.

Tim Gibson at the B1M describes what it would be like.

“Mayor Anne Hidalgo has given the green light for the city’s iconic Champs-Élysées to be transformed into an urban garden.

“Traffic congestion has seen the famous boulevard lose its grandeur over recent decades, and many local Parisians have abandoned it in favour of more pedestrian-friendly avenues. Hidalgo hopes to bring the road back to its people by removing its outer lanes, widening pedestrian areas, planting more trees and greenery, and creating dedicated bicycle lanes.

“Plans were first proposed in 2019 by local community leaders who begged the government to restore the road to its former glory. …

“The massive overhaul is part of a £225M project to regenerate Paris’ streets and make the city greener and more people-friendly. Throughout Paris, 140,000 on-street car parking bays will be removed and replaced with vegetable allotments, food composting, playgrounds, bicycle lock-ups and more trees.

Local residents have been consulted on what they’d prefer the spaces to be used for.

‘We can no longer use 50% of the capital for cars when they represent only 13% of people’s journeys,’ deputy mayor David Belliard told The Times.

“ ‘We have to plant greenery in the city to adapt to the acceleration of climate change. We want to make the air more breathable and give public space to Parisians who often live in cramped flats.’

“While plans for the rejuvenation of Paris pre-date COVID-19, the pandemic has expedited the entire process. City-wide lockdowns have shifted the perspective of many Parisians – and others around the world. There is a newfound emphasis on public transport, green spaces, parks and community.

“Hidalgo has become a major proponent of the ‘fifteen minute city,’ where all residents will be able to reach necessary amenities such as shops, parks and offices within a fifteen minute walk or bike ride. …

“Copenhagen continued with plans to become completely carbon-neutral by 2025 and have 75 percent of all journeys be done by foot, bicycle or public transport. Like Paris, the city has started transforming many of its parking bays into areas for plants and trees.

“During the April lockdown, London also shifted space on its roads over to bicycles, expanding its network of cycling lanes.” More at the B1M, here.

I’m hoping Alison, who blogs about her adventures in Paris, will weigh in. Carol at cas d’intérêt, too.

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Photo: Alfredo Sosa/Christian Science Monitor.
Farmers who aren’t climate-action types may nevertheless be proponents of profitable wind energy. In Knox County, Illinois, the farmers above were glad to get a contract with Orion Energy for a 300-megawatt wind farm that is bringing in extra money for them and tax revenues for the county

One precept that my reading of fiction keeps hammering home to me is that people are complicated. A character doesn’t have to be one of the good guys to do something good or one of the bad guys to do something bad. Similarly, in real life, you don’t have to be on one side of a political divide to find value in something the opposing side values.

This article from the Christian Science Monitor provides an example.

Stephanie Hanes writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “For five generations, Andrew Bowman’s family has worked the land in Oneida, population 700-ish – a flat and fertile swath of Illinois his father always said was good for growing crops and kids. Today, he farms soybeans and corn, as well as specialty popcorn, which he sells under the label Pilot Knob Comforts. Mr. Bowman hopes to have a new resource to harvest soon, as well: wind.

“This past year, Mr. Bowman took a lead representing local landowners in negotiating with Orion Renewable Energy Group, one of the many companies installing wind farms across Illinois, to build a new 100-turbine project in his part of Knox County. Clean energy would not only help keep the local school open and support the fire department and library, he says, but would also offer a new income stream to farmers who agree to lease some of their land for the project – some $30 million over 25 years, according to the proposal. …

“For Mr. Bowman, embracing wind power is part of stewarding the land for the next generation – and one of many steps he and his brother-in-law, Matt Hulsizer, have taken to ensure resiliency on their 1,800 acres. They are acutely focused on soil health, low tillage, and reducing fuel consumption; they have tried organic practices and are investigating cover crops to retain nutrients and prevent erosion.

“But none of this is because they are trying to fight climate change.

“They care deeply about the environment, they say; after all, they live and work in it. But they cringe at the cries for climate action, and they bristle when city people suggest their outdoor, low-consumption life is problematic. … If human-made climate change is happening, they say – something they find dubious – they doubt there’s much anyone can do to stop it.

“For them, tending soil and harvesting wind for clean energy – two initiatives climate scholars say are crucial for reducing carbon emissions – is simply about taking the best steps economically

“And that, scholars point out, is a tremendous shift.

“For years, the dominant narrative of climate action was one of trade-offs and costs – that saving the world as we know it meant taking hard steps to reduce carbon emissions, and likely sacrificing jobs and lifestyle in the process. …

“[But] economic shifts, whether around clean energy or electric vehicles, regenerative agriculture or green construction, may be starting to defuse much of the debate over climate change.

“Instead, climate action has merged with economic progress – particularly when it comes to clean energy. And although climate activists say this awakening won’t by itself put the nation on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, some suggest it is making that path less arduous, while creating new opportunities and connections for those across the ideological spectrum.

“ ‘There’s an argument that’s been around for a long time, that somehow the economy and the environment are at odds and we can’t do two things at once,’ says Bob Keefe, executive director of E2, an organization of business groups focused on environmental action.

‘What we’re seeing today is that there’s never been more clarity about the economic costs of climate change, or the economic potential of climate action.’

“The narrative of “climate versus jobs,” though, is an enduring one. For decades, environmental protection has been presented in terms of extra costs such as regulations on businesses, requirements for companies, and restrictions on activities. While this wasn’t always divisive – the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency were both highly bipartisan measures, for instance – it has increasingly become a dividing line. …

“Where the left has seen necessary checks on industry for the preservation of the natural world, and the potential for a clean environment to lead to new economic prosperity, the right has seen challenges to businesses, job losses, and economic hardship. Both sides have studies that support their views. Climate action has followed a similar pattern. …

“ ‘We’ve seen that constant conversation about jobs versus climate action,’ says Catrina Rorke, vice president of policy for the Climate Leadership Council, a centrist bipartisan group that promotes policies to price carbon. ‘We think it’s woefully incorrect. We think aggressive climate action can actually unlock a lot of economic activity.’

“In large part, says Stephen Cohen, former director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, this is because a climate action economy is simply a modern economy – one that is moving away from a stagnating World War II-era industrial approach and into a newly automated, technologically innovative, and cleaner system. …

“ ‘It’s 100 years later and it’s time to modernize,’ he says. … ‘Most of the farsighted businesspeople – they know all of this. It’s how they think about the world.’

“This isn’t just about fossil fuels versus clean energy, he and others say. From the auto industry’s shift to electric vehicles, with all of the connected grid and battery production, to the construction industry’s work retrofitting old buildings, to wind and solar energy jobs, the impact of climate-connected development is broad. It is also spurring a new wave of innovation and entrepreneurship, scholars say.

“None of this means the end to the underlying political tension surrounding climate action. … Nor does this new economy benefit everyone. In any industrial shift, Dr. Cohen points out, some skills and jobs become obsolete. And when it comes to a climate-connected economy, those hardships are concentrated in particular communities, such as in West Virginia and Wyoming, that were built around fossil fuel extraction. In other words, it’s easy to focus on the story of a coal town dying because of a shift in the energy sector. The hardship is concentrated. It’s harder to tell a story when the benefits are diffuse, and everywhere.

“ ‘The losers are more specific and more easily identified – the winners might not exist yet,’ says Wolfram Schlenker, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and the Earth Institute.

“Still, Americans increasingly see a price to pay if rising temperatures go unchecked. The number of Americans who believe global warming will harm people in the United States a great or moderate amount grew from 51% in 2014 to 61% last year, according to polling by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

“Here in Illinois and elsewhere, most workers have jobs that aren’t directly focused on climate change. But ‘green’ growth, from the booming renewables market to energy-efficient construction projects, is everywhere.  As a trip across the state shows, the positive economic story of industry that could be categorized as climate-related – even if those involved wouldn’t categorize it as such – is getting easier to observe.”

More at the Monitor, here, where among other topics you can learn about the battle between a fungi protein and chicken nuggets.

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Photo: Reuters.
An Egyptian nonprofit has enlisted fishermen from Al-Qursaya, an island near central Cairo, to collect plastics that have been reducing the catch.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, I recently learned about the enormity of the plastics problem in waters where people fish. The website states: “Plastic accumulating in our oceans and on our beaches has become a global crisis. Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences that make up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. At current rates, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.” Yikes!

New efforts large and small are needed to reverse what’s happening. On Twitter, the World Economic Forum is promoting one of the small efforts, which is how I learned about it.

Reuters reports, “For 17 years, Mohamed Nasar has supported his family of five by fishing in the Nile River near the banks of the tiny island of Al-Qursaya close to central Cairo.

“But the 58-year-old says fishermen like himself catch fewer fish every year as the Nile has become clogged with plastic bottles, bags and other waste.

‘The fish get caught in the bottles, and they die,’ said Nasar.

“A local environmental group named ‘VeryNile‘ has asked the island’s fishermen to use their boats to collect plastic bottles from the river. VeryNile says it buys the bottles at a higher price than the general market price on offer from traders or recycling plants.

“The initiative provides a sustainable solution for helping to clean up the Nile, while providing an additional source of income for fisherman like Nasar.

” ‘This job helped us a bit. We come and collect about 10 to 15 kilos (of plastic bottles), we get about 12 Egyptian pounds ($0.7682) for each,’ Nasar said as he sat in his boat collecting bottles. …

“Another fisherman, Saeed Hassanein, said cleaner Nile water would mean more fish.

” ‘On the one hand, the Nile is cleaner, and on the other hand the fisherman now has more than one source of income,’ he said.

“With the help of more than 40 fishermen, VeryNile has over the past year collected around 18 tons of plastic bottles, most of which were sold to recyclers.” More at Reuters, here.

The World Economic Forum, which defines itself as the “international organization for public-private cooperation,” is increasingly focused on addressing the consequences of global warming, and I hope it is serious about that. It’s easy to feel cynical about the forum’s annual conference for the world’s rich and powerful — called Davos because it takes place in Davos, Switzerland — but I have to believe it’s helping to make both the problems and the possible solutions more widely accepted. Besides, I know there are many altruistic people on the staff, like my friend Kai, who was one of them several years ago.

In a recent podcast, Radio Davos discusses initiatives tackling climate change, calling the current decade “the decade of ocean science, and one in which we must get on track for net-zero by 2050.”

So there’s that. Meanwhile, in Egypt, impoverished fishermen are pulling out plastic that corporations, cruise ships, and too many individuals keep dumping.

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Photo: Photographic/Scenic Ireland/Alamy via the Guardian.
Burning peat increases global warming, which is why commercial operations are closing, but undisturbed bogs have always been great for keeping carbon
from the atmosphere.

My father-in-law was in the peat moss business back in the day. The Philadelphia company he worked for and later ran was called I.H. Nestor. It sold peat mostly for agriculture, but you may know that peat was also burned for heat, especially in Ireland. My friend, the late great James Hackett, and his family always heated their home with peat, with unfortunate consequences for their health.

Today’s story is about the historical value of peat bogs, an aspect that has been mostly unrecognized until now.

Chris Mooney writes at the Washington Post, “Long before the era of fossil fuels, humans may have triggered a massive but mysterious ‘carbon bomb’ lurking beneath the Earth’s surface, a new scientific study suggests. If the finding is correct, it would mean that we have been neglecting a major human contribution to global warming — one whose legacy continues.

“The researchers, from France’s Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences and several other institutions across the globe, suggest that beginning well before the industrial era, the mass conversion of carbon-rich peatlands for agriculture could have added over 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of more than seven years of current emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy.

“ ‘Globally [peatlands] are only 3 percent of the land surface but store about 30 percent of the global soil carbon,’ said Chunjing Qiu, a researcher at the laboratory, a joint institution supported by French government research bodies and the Versailles Saint-Quentin University, and the first author of the study published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

“The new finding of an ‘ignored historical land use emission’ suggests that even now, we lack a complete understanding of how the Earth’s land surfaces are driving and modulating the warming of the planet. … Scientists have long worried about the potential for massive amounts of carbon being released by northern permafrost, where ancient plant remains lie in a kind of suspended animation beneath the surface. But the peat threat is very similar; in fact, peatlands overlap considerably with permafrost regions.

“Peatlands are a particular type of wetland, one in which dead plant matter does not fully decay due to the watery conditions, and thus accumulates.

In its normal state, peat slowly pulls carbon out of the atmosphere — unless you disturb it.

“If a peatland is drained — as has occurred for many centuries to promote agriculture, especially the planting of crops — the ancient plant matter begins to decompose, and the carbon it contains joins with oxygen from the atmosphere. It is then emitted as carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse warming gas. …

“To try to get around the problem of missing historical records, the new study simulates the Northern Hemisphere (outside of the tropics) over thousands of years to determine where peat would have likely developed. Over time, the computer model will begin to include growing agricultural activities. It can then be used to analyze different scenarios for how frequently such developments may have occurred on peatland.

“In a middle-of-the-road scenario, where humans would have regularly grown crops on peatlands, the study finds that some 70 billion tons of carbon (over 250 billion tons when converted to carbon dioxide) would have been lost from the soil.

“Importantly, the analysis does not cover all the peatlands across the globe: It only considers Northern Hemisphere peatlands from the year 850 CE onward. Massive losses of tropical peat are even now occurring in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, for instance, so global losses will be higher. …

“The study is ‘a broad modeling approach with many assumptions, which can all be individually questioned and debated,’ added Hans Joosten, who leads a peat research group at the University of Greifswald in Germany. ‘But the overall message that remains is that drainage of only a small part turns the entire northern peatland resource into a net carbon source.

‘Though peatlands indeed are carbon sinks in their pristine state, they should also be seen as carbon bombs, which explode whenever they are damaged. Keep them wet!’ …

“The new work underscores that major gaps remain in how much we know about the human contribution to climate change, even as we are trying to halt it. With poor understanding about peat locations, and poor reporting about land conversion, experts say, many countries can’t fully account for peat emissions even now. That could raise questions about what has been happening in their land-use sector.”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: The Guardian.
Sister Brigid Arthur, 86, and Anj Sharma, 16, are among a group who secured a judgment from the Australian federal court that found the government has a duty to protect young people from climate change.

If you ever feel powerless to do anything about climate change, consider how an 86-year-old nun and eight Australian teenagers stopped a massive new coal mine in its tracks by persuading a court that the needs of youth need to be addressed first. Fingers crossed that the success is more than temporary.

Adam Morton writes at the Guardian, “The federal court of Australia has found the environment minister, Sussan Ley, has a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis in a judgment hailed by lawyers and teenagers who brought the case as a world first.

“Eight teenagers and an octogenarian nun had sought an injunction to prevent Ley approving a proposal by Whitehaven Coal to expand the Vickery coalmine in northern New South Wales, arguing the minister had a common law duty of care to protect younger people against future harm from climate change.

“Justice Mordecai Bromberg found the minister had a duty of care to not act in a way that would cause future harm to younger people. But he did not grant the injunction as he was not satisfied the minister would breach her duty of care.

“David Barnden, a lawyer representing the children, said it was a historic and ‘amazing decision’ with potentially significant consequences.

“ ‘The court has found that the minister owes a duty of care to younger children, to vulnerable people, and that duty says that the minister must not act in a way that causes harm – future harm – from climate change to younger people,’ he said outside court.

‘It is the first time in the world that such a duty of care has been recognized, especially in a common law country.’

“He said Bromberg had indicated he would now take submissions before making further declarations about what the minister’s duty of care may mean for whether the mine extension could go ahead.

“Whitehaven Coal had a different interpretation of the judgment. In a statement to the stock exchange, it did not mention the duty of care finding, and said it welcomed the court dismissing the teenagers’ attempt to block Ley from approving the mine extension. …

“Speaking for the children, 17-year-old Ava Princi said it was ‘thrilling and deeply relieving’ that the justice had recognized the minister had a duty of care. …

“She said though an injunction was not granted the case was ‘not over yet. … There will be further submissions on what the duty of care means for the minister’s decision and the mine.’ …

“The court heard the expansion of the mine could lead to an extra 100m tonnes of CO2 – about 20% of Australia’s annual climate footprint – being released into the atmosphere as the extracted coal is shipped overseas and burned to make steel and generate electricity.

“In his judgment, Bromberg said the evidence presented to the court showed the potential harm the children could face due to global heating ‘may fairly be described as catastrophic, particularly should global average surface temperatures rise to and exceed 3C beyond the pre-industrial level.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

It may not be over, but a finding for children and their future is important, and when added to other recent judicial decisions described in the Guardian article, there’s some reason for hope.

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Photo: Jim Maragos, US Fish and Wildlife Service, CC BY-NC 2.0.
The Ocean Panel is a group of 14 countries looking to protect 100% of their ocean areas by 2025. Pictured: a coral reef in the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

I don’t know which aspect of this story is more hopeful: that there is time to save oceans or that 14 countries have pledged to collaborate. On anything.

From the radio show Living on Earth: “The oceans are facing serious and growing threats, including climate change, overfishing, plastic pollution and more. But a group of 14 world leaders called the Ocean Panel is committing to transform the ocean from victim to solution, by sustainably managing 100% of their ocean areas by 2025. Jane Lubchenco is the Deputy Director for Climate and Environment for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as a co-chair of the Ocean Panel Expert Group that helped ground this vision in research. She joins Host Aynsley O’Neill. …

“O’NEILL: Before she took her White House job, [Jane Lubchenco] spoke with us about the vision and work of the Ocean Panel. Jane, welcome back to Living on Earth!

“LUBCHENCO: Thanks, Aynsley, it’s a delight to be here.

“O’NEILL: Now, when we look at how we currently manage the oceans, why does the world need this total transformation in management? …

“LUBCHENCO: We’ve treated a lot of these problems issue by issue. And part of the message that the Ocean Panel leaders heard is the need for integrated solutions that consider the whole suite of human activities. The other major thing that I think they heard was that a smart future is not just doing more of the same. It’s actually doing things differently, being much smarter about how we fish, much smarter about how we produce energy, much smarter about how we transport goods around the world. And so much of what is in their new, exciting Ocean Action agenda is doing things smarter, more effectively, more efficiently, and also doing things more holistically. …

“In September of 2019, we had a new report that came out from the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There was a special report on the ocean and the cryosphere, and it painted in very depressing detail, all of the ways that the ocean has been massively affected by climate change and ocean acidification. … The same week, the Ocean Panel unveiled a report. … The report that the Ocean Panel commissioned, looked at a variety of ocean-based activities and asked simply, what is the potential for mitigating climate change? And they found enough data at the global scale to analyze five categories of activities. And when they added up how much they could get from each of those five, they came to the astounding conclusion that it might be as much as 1/5 of what we need, by way of carbon emission reductions to achieve the 1.5 degree centigrade target of the Paris Agreement by 2050.

So that’s huge. You know, a lot of those activities weren’t even on the table. And here, we find that they actually could play a very significant role in helping to turn things around in terms of climate change.

“O’NEILL: So Jane, you mentioned five ocean-based activities to help mitigate climate change. Could you go through those for us, please?

“LUBCHENCO: So the first one was increasing renewable energy from the ocean, and that’s a big one. Most of that is going to likely be wave energy, but it might also be tidal, it might be current, it might be thermal, depending on what part of the world you are in.

“The second category was making shipping less polluting. So 90% of the goods that are traded globally travel by ocean and currently, that’s pretty polluting. Its dirty fuels contribute significantly to greenhouse gases. But it is technologically possible to decarbonize shipping, and that could have a huge benefit.

“Number three is focusing on what we call blue carbon ecosystems. So these are coastal and ocean ecosystems, such as mangroves, salt marshes, or seagrass beds, that are little carbon engines that are just sucking carbon out of the atmosphere like crazy. Those habitats; mangroves, sea grasses, salt, marsh beds, can not only remove but then sequester as much as 10 times as much carbon as an equivalent area of forest, for example. And we’ve currently lost about half of them globally. So here is an opportunity to actually protect the remaining ones, but also to restore those that have already been degraded.

“The fourth area for ocean based activities to mitigate climate change comes from focusing on a little bit greater efficiency with aquaculture, mariculture operations, a little bit greater efficiency with fisheries. But the big one in this category is really shifting diets globally, away from animal protein on the land, and including animal protein from the sea, instead of that animal protein from the land.

“And then the fifth category was simply sequestering carbon on the seabed. And the panel who looked at these five categories, said that the first four, they felt completely comfortable recommending that they be pursued aggressively. Smartly, yes, but aggressively. This fifth one, carbon storage in the seabed has a lot of questions still about technical and environmental impacts. And so they recommended further study for those. …

“This is not really sacrifice. It’s being smarter about doing things. I think people are familiar with the concept of greater efficiency when we think about energy. You know, much of the focus for mitigating climate change has been focusing on how do we use energy more efficiently. And there have been tremendous advances in energy efficiency of our appliances, of our automobiles, of our transportation systems. That same concept of being more efficient, is what underlies a lot of the transformative actions that are in the ocean action agenda. So yes, this is an incredible opportunity. And it’s my belief that these 14 nations that have embarked on this journey of discovery and now journey of action will have such success with what they are proposing that others will say, oh my gosh, I want some of that too.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters.
From the
Christian Science Monitor news roundup: “Managing director Kimani Muturi shows off a TexFad hair extension made from banana trunk fibers near Kampala, Uganda, April 3, 2021. When finished using it, consumers can compost the product. The company also makes rugs and other handwoven textiles.

When in the air-conditioner season I stop to think about how much we all depend on fossil fuels, I worry that we will never be able to halt global warming. But then I read stories from around the world about inventive people doing what they can, and I remember the underlying wisdom of “one and two and 50 make a million.”

Lindsey McGinnis at the Christian Science Monitor has scoured the news media for signs of progress in a variety of areas, including the environment.

“Researchers from the University of Maryland and Yale have made a breakthrough in the search for sustainable plastic alternatives, developing a wood-based bioplastic that disintegrates in a few months. … The new bioplastic is created by using a biodegradable solvent to deconstruct wood powder found at lumber mills into a slurry, which can then be shaped into common plastic products, such as shopping bags and other packaging.

“Other experimental bioplastics have often lacked the strength to compete with petroleum-based plastics, but the scientists say their product showed high mechanical strength during tests, the capacity to hold liquid, and resistance to ultraviolet light. At the end of a product’s life, the bioplastic will quickly decompose in soil, or can be re-slurried and used again. Source: New Atlas, Nature Sustainability

“A startup in Uganda is making consumer products from edible banana plant material that would otherwise go to waste. Uganda is sub-Saharan Africa’s top producer of bananas and plantains, with an estimated 75% of all farmers growing some form of banana. They typically leave the stalks to rot after harvesting fruit. That’s where TexFad saw an opportunity. The company, which launched in 2013 and employs 23 people, runs the stalks through a machine to create long fibers, hangs the leathery strands to dry, and uses the material to create products such as carpets.

“Last year, the company made $41,000 in sales, and the managing director expects TexFad to double production in 2021 to 2,400 carpets, some of which will be exported to customers in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States for the first time. The company also creates hair extensions (used ones can be composted) and is working on a process to soften the fibers for use in clothing. Source: Interesting Engineering, Reuters

“A global network is helping reroute dangerous refrigerants before they leak into the atmosphere. Freezers and refrigerators have housed some of the most potent greenhouse gases, including the compound known as R12, a chlorofluorocarbon with roughly 10,000 times the destructive potential of CO2. The refrigerants pumped into modern units are better, but still pose global warming potential. When disposed of improperly – either knowingly or unknowingly – these gases are released into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.

“Tradewater, a company that collects and destroys greenhouse gases and sells the carbon offset credits, is coordinating with governments and businesses around the world to dispose of the gases safely. Its teams are sometimes called ‘chill hunters’ or ‘ghostbusters’ for the way they track and trap the gases, transferring them from discarded refrigerator cylinders into a large container. Tradewater then incinerates the recovered gases. The group reports that 4 million to 5 million metric tons have been kept out of the atmosphere so far. Ángel Toledo has run a waste disposal plant on the edge of Guatemala City for 16 years, but only dealt with refrigerant gases since 2018. ‘It’s like a dream, helping the environment … [by preventing these] gases from reaching the atmosphere.’ Source: BBC.”

More at the Monitor, here. I am not a Christian Scientist, but the Christian Science Monitor newspaper has a long and illustrious history for objective reporting, especially on international news, although I believe they don’t cover health news.

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Photo: United Airlines via Flight Global.
United Airlines will invest in carbon capture to try to limit the bad effects of its fuel on the climate.

It would be better for the planet if we all took fewer airplane trips, but consumer demand just keeps increasing. Especially after the pandemic, everyone wants to get away by plane. So here is an alternative way to deal with aviation pollution. Would love to know if you regard this as a good solution.

Steven Mufson reported for the Washington Post in January, “United Airlines is … backing carbon capture — the nascent technology designed to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“United Airlines is the first major U.S. air carrier to take a step toward trying to remove some of the greenhouse gases spewed by it and every other airline, pollution that is driving up global temperatures.

“For United, it’s an alluring project. Governments, particularly in Europe, are beginning to crack down on emissions from airlines. Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the first time regulated greenhouse gas emissions from commercial aircraft. … United is increasingly focused on its voluntary goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 — good publicity at a time of growing alarm about climate change.

“But it may also be placing an early bet that carbon-capture technology could — with the help of federal tax credits — prove profitable. …

“Steve Oldham, chief executive of Carbon Engineering, which has developed carbon-capture technology, said United is taking an unusual approach to decarbonization. ‘When most are thinking they have to stop emissions, here you have a very credible company with a real need saying that the best way of dealing with emissions is removing them,’ he said.

“A lot is at stake. If global airlines were lumped together as one country, they would rank among the world’s top five or six emitters of carbon dioxide, according to the International Energy Agency. Aviation accounts for 3.5 percent of the planet’s man-made greenhouse gas emissions, a recent Manchester Metropolitan University study says. At high altitudes, the planes leave behind contrails of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, water vapor and soot.

“When it comes to commercial aviation, there are no low-carbon alternatives. In the summer, a small white-and-red all-electric-powered Cessna e-Caravan flew safely over Washington state — for only 28 minutes. The plane had room for nine, but only the pilot was on board.

“Solar-powered flights are even less practical. A plane called Solar Impulse 2 went around the world over 14 months, but it could only hold the pilot in an unheated, unpressurized phone-booth-size cockpit whose single seat doubled as a toilet. The plane flew at an average of 30 miles per hour to maximize energy savings, and, despite an enormous wingspan, it was only able to carry the equivalent weight of one automobile.

” ‘The aviation sector is one of the hardest to decarbonize,’ Oldham said. ‘Planes require fuel and burn a lot of fuel. At high altitude, the impact of those carbon emissions is greater than if they were released on the surface.’

“So United says it will become a partner in 1PointFive, a joint venture designed to finance and deploy a large-scale direct-air-capture plant. The firm, formed in August by a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum and Rusheen Capital Management, will use technology created by Carbon Engineering.

“The name 1PointFive refers to the U.N. goal of limiting the average increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times. Constraining global warming to that level could avert the most catastrophic fallout from climate change, scientists say. The company will build its first plant somewhere in the Texas Permian Basin, an area rich in shale crude oil and natural gas.

“Occidental, the biggest oil and gas operator in the Permian, will take the carbon dioxide from the air and pump it into old wells to extract more oil. Legislation gives firms a $35-a-barrel tax credit for this capture and use. Occidental will leave the carbon dioxide underground; it has said it has enough geologic storage capacity to bury 28 years worth of U.S. emissions. …

“Scale remains a problem. United has improved its fuel efficiency by more than 45 percent since 1990, the year often used as a benchmark for climate-oriented energy savings. It has added aerodynamic fins on wingtips, used only one engine when taxiing on runways and bought planes that weigh less. But the number of travelers has soared, and airline fuel consumption has gone up. The federal Energy Information Administration estimates that jet fuel demand will more than double by 2050.

“Each carbon-capture plant will take up about 100 acres and capture 1 million tons, equivalent to the work of more than 40 million trees. To put that into perspective, worldwide emissions are 40 gigatons. Offsetting that would require 40,000 carbon capture plants. …

“David Victor, a professor and climate expert at the University of California at San Diego, said, ‘The airlines are an example of a sector where firms are starting to see the writing on the wall … and a lot of them don’t know what to do.’ “

More at the Washington Post, here.

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