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Photo: Loren Kerns, Flickr
Many carbon offset projects reduce carbon in the atmosphere by protecting forests. Cool Effect offers other, carefully vetted offsets. The average American creates 17 tons of carbon pollution every year, so at $5 t0 $13 a ton, offsetting your footprint is a real deal.

When an arborist came to our house to remove a dangling limb on our big old tree, I was so sad to learn that the whole tree was diseased and had to come down. Not only was it beautiful, it was removing carbon from the atmosphere, which helps reduce global warming. I made a donation to the the Arbor Day Foundation, as an offset, but that’s not as good as keeping an ancient tree.

Here is what a recent episode of the radio show Living on Earth had to say about some good carbon offsets.

“Carbon-intensive activities, including global air travel, have been growing for decades. For individuals and companies interested in reducing their carbon footprints, carbon offsets promise to mitigate the damage caused by flying and other emissions sources through the investment in projects that either sequester carbon, like reforestation or forest conservation, or develop alternative energy infrastructure that reduce future emissions. Cool Effect CEO Marisa de Belloy discusses her non-profit crowdfunding platform that sells these offsets with host Bobby Bascomb.

“BASCOMB: [What] do people choose to offset with your carbon emissions offset program? …

“DE BELLOY: They’ll offset a flight, they’ll offset their trips to work; some will offset their entire year. The average American emits about 17 tons of carbon pollution every year. And so some people like to wipe that clean by offsetting that at Cool Effect. These are people who are committed environmentalists who are already doing what they can do in their daily lives, to reduce their impact. And that might be eating less meat, it might be traveling less often, it might be having an electric car or solar panels. …

“BASCOMB: [Give] me some examples of projects that participate.

“DE BELLOY: [Each] of these projects will have met the requirements of an independent standard, they’ll have been verified independently of us, and then we do our own very deep due diligence that lasts a couple of months on each project, to make sure that they’re doing exactly what they say they’re doing. …

“We have a project, for example, in Vietnam that installs biogas digesters, which is a very simple technology that takes animal waste, and turns it into clean cooking fuel for homes. We have a project in the United States that’s protecting the forest, or another one protecting grasslands; a project in Honduras that is providing clean cookstoves for families down there who were basically dying from air pollution from cooking over open fires. …

“They all are truly additional, meaning they’re truly having an impact on the planet and then they also all have their own set of co-benefits. [For] the cookstove project, it’s the health of the families. In some cases, it’s local jobs. In some cases, it’s protecting wildlife or a whole forest ecosystem and the people who live there. [The] key thing that underlies all the projects is that we have made sure that they’re actually doing the work of verifiably reducing carbon emissions.

“BASCOMB: And how do you actually verify that? I mean, how do you know that this project wouldn’t have been done anyway without this money? …

“DE BELLOY: [A] couple of different ways, but one is you have to understand what their financial model is, both when they started the business and currently. Is there a profitable way to do what they’re doing without the revenue from carbon offsets? And if the answer is yes, then the project is likely not additional. Another way to look for additionality is regulatory additionality. So, is there a law in place that’s requiring this business or this nonprofit to do what it’s doing? …

“BASCOMB: And then once you’ve identified a good project to work with, how do you guarantee the longevity of that? I mean, I saw that you have one in Brazil, protecting the Amazon, and Brazil is a famously lawless area, especially with the new president that really doesn’t encourage conservation. How can you be sure that those trees will still be standing 10 years from now, or that the landowner won’t take that money and then clear cut in a different area?

“DE BELLOY: [On] the trees still standing portion, that’s built into the methodology, so they will no longer be able to offer credits if those trees start disappearing. And each of the methodologies includes a certain buffer amount of trees, you know, because trees do die, and you can have natural fires and that sort of thing. And we take a particularly conservative approach to these projects, if there’s any doubt that, you know, the cook stove was in use, or the tree was still standing, or, you know, the animals were still having access to these grasslands, then a credit is not issued for that amount. So wherever there’s doubt, the credit is not issued. …

“[The cost for an offset] goes from about $5 to about $13 a ton. So if you think about the average American having 17 tons of carbon pollution every year, it’s a really reasonable amount of money to spend to wipe away that impact that we’re all having.” More from Living on Earth, here.

The best example I know of someone practicing what they preach is young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who is traveling from Canada to Chile without using fossil fuels. Read this.

Photo: New York Times
So as not to use any airplane’s fossil fuels, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Malizia II, a zero-emissions racing yacht.
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Photo: BioCarbon Engineering
Drones can have a peaceful purpose. These are fighting climate change by “bombing” seeds into places that need trees. Trees are essential for decreasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Drones can have peaceful purposes. Some folks use them for photography or research on birds. Others have tapped drones to plant the trees our planet needs to reduce carbon dioxide and combat global warming.

Leo Shvedsky writes at Good, “Technology is the single greatest contributor to climate change but it may also soon be used to offset the damage we’ve done to our planet since the Industrial Age began.

“In September 2018, a project in Myanmar used drones to fire ‘seed missiles’ into remote areas of the country where trees were not growing. Less than a year later, thousands of those seed missiles have sprouted into 20-inch mangrove saplings that could literally be a case study in how technology can be used to innovate our way out of the climate change crisis.

“ ‘We now have a case confirmed of what species we can plant and in what conditions,’ Irina Fedorenko, co-founder of Biocarbon Engineering, told Fast Company. …

“According to Fedoranko, just two operators could send out a mini-fleet of seed missile planting drones that could plant 400,000 trees a day — a number that quite possibly could make massive headway in combating the effects of manmade climate change.

“The drones were designed by an ex-NASA engineer. And with a pressing need to reseed an area in Myanmar equal to the size of Rhode Island, the challenge is massive but suddenly within reach. Bremley Lyngdoh, founder and CEO of World Impact, says reseeding that area could theoretically house as many as 1 billion new trees. …

“For context, it took the Worldview Foundation 7 years to plant 6 million trees in Myanmar. Now, with the help of the drones, they hope to plant another 4 million before the end of 2019.

“Myanmar is a great case study for the project. In addition to the available land for the drone project, the nation has been particularly hit by the early effects of climate change in recent years. Rising sea levels are having a measurable impact on the population. In addition to their ability to clear CO2 from the atmosphere, healthy trees can also help solidify the soil, which can reduce the kind of soil erosion that has been affecting local populations in Myanmar.”

Adele Peters at Fast Company explains, “The drones first fly over an area to map it, collecting data about the topography and soil condition that can be combined with satellite data and analyzed to determine the best locations to plant each seed. Then the drone fires biodegradable pods — filled with a germinated seed and nutrients — into the ground. For the process to succeed in a mangrove forest, several conditions need to be right; if the tide comes in unexpectedly, for example, the seeds could wash away. In tests, Biocarbon Engineering has looked at which species and environmental conditions perform best.

“If drones do begin to replant entire forests, humans will still play a critical role. That’s in part because some seeds don’t fit inside the pods. But people living nearby also need a reason to leave the trees standing. ‘The project in Myanmar is all about community development and enabling people to care for trees, providing them with jobs, and making environmental restoration in a way that it’s profitable for people,’ says Fedorenko. ‘The forest didn’t vanish by itself—the forest was cut down by local people.’ ”

More at Good and Fast Company.

Hat tip: Maria Popova on Twitter.

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Photo: Jason Margolis/PRI’s The World 
The Refuge Coffee Shop in Clarkston, Georgia, a town that has been welcoming to refugees, with a mayor who recognizes root causes of mass migration and aims to do his part.

More and more people are recognizing that the mass migrations we’re seeing today — and the wars that seem to be the main cause — are tied to climate change.

Here is a story about a small city in Georgia, home to many immigrants, that has put two and two together and is determined to be part of the solution.

Writes Jason Margolis at Public Radio International’s show The World, “Clarkston, Georgia, is often referred to as the Ellis Island of the South. Some 60 languages are spoken in this city of 13,000 just outside of Atlanta, and perhaps half the population is foreign born. Many are refugees.

“Felix Hategekimana is a refugee from Rwanda, a soft-spoken man who doesn’t talk much about his backstory, except to say that he fled violence back home: ‘We have political issues and security [issues].’

“But Hategekimana says there’s more to the troubles in Rwanda. Droughts and floods have plagued his country in recent years, and that’s led to more people migrating.

“ ‘Some people lose life in the disaster of the rain,’ Hategekimana said. ‘Some people lose life, others lose their homes and they lose their property, like their farms where they plant their vegetables.’

“You hear a lot of stories like this from refugees in Clarkston. Legally, there’s no such thing as a ‘climate change refugee.’ Refugee status is only awarded based on a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group — not because your home got wiped out by a flood, or your crops were destroyed by a drought.

“But Clarkston’s mayor, Ted Terry, says the impacts of more extreme weather are woven throughout the lives of many new residents here. …

“Climate scientists agree that storms are becoming more severe, and the trend is only going to continue. Case in point, the Category 4 cyclone that struck southern Africa recently has left at least 600,000 people displaced. The immediate needs there — food, clean drinking water and shelter — are stark. After that, a big question: rebuild or relocate?

“It’s a dilemma that many people across the globe are facing, which will inevitably lead to more people on the move. But the world still hasn’t agreed on what to do with so-called climate refugees. Take a place like Syria.

“ ‘It becomes more drier, I think,’ said Malk Alarmash, a Syrian refugee now living in Clarkston. … But Alarmash can’t say that a lack of rainfall led people to flee Syria.

“ ‘I don’t know. I don’t have any information about that, like climate change,’ Alarmash said.

“An inability to pin the seeds of conflict on climatic shifts isn’t unusual; the relationship between climate change and forced migration is immensely complicated. … A drought can destroy people’s food supplies and livelihoods. That can lead to internal migration, inflame tensions and maybe even contribute to conflict and a refugee crisis. But all of this can unfold over years. …

“ ‘The climate is the last thing in their mind. They know it’s all related, but they just say, “This is from God,” ‘ said Omar Shekhey, a Clarkston resident who is originally from Somalia. …  ‘It goes together — the civil war, the war and the climate, you cannot separate them.’ …

“Shekhey says most Somali refugees aren’t connecting the dots to climate change. But as global temperatures continue to rise, Mayor Terry, who also works with the Sierra Club, believes that those dots will become clearer, even in the US.

“ ‘We’re looking at a future, I think, if we don’t take steps to reverse global warming, we’re looking at potentially hundreds of millions of people around the world, including you know, in America, Louisiana. Their coastline is disappearing,’ Terry said. ‘And so, at some point, there has to be some sort of recognition and define what it means to be a climate refugee.’ …

“Clarkston’s mayor [wants] to address the root of the problem, starting in his own community. It’s one reason Clarkston is committing to 100 percent renewable energy — instead of fossil fuels — by midcentury.

“ ‘In some way, we’re trying to alleviate future calamities. We just have to do our part; we have to consider ourselves part of the global community.’ ”

More at PRI, here.

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Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
Teenage sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen of Bali have received many honors for their efforts to ban plastic bags. Here they’re seen accepting the 2017 “Award for Our Earth” from Germany’s Bambi Awards.

An impressive phenomenon that’s emerging as climate change threatens communities and plastic waste clogs waterways is the emergence of children and teens as leaders — in particular, young people from developing nations.

Consider this story from National Public Radio [NPR].

“Five years ago, two young women decided they were going to do something about the plastic problem on their island of Bali. And Bye Bye Plastic Bags was born.

“How young?” asks NPR reporter Michael Sullivan. “So young one of them couldn’t make it to our midweek interview. ‘She’s at school,’ explained 18-year-old Melati Wijsen, talking about her 16-year-old sister Isabel. ‘She’s just halfway through grade 11 and she’s putting her focus more into graduating high school.’

“Bali is part of the island nation of Indonesia, which is the world’s second biggest polluter when it comes to marine plastic, trailing only China. And when ocean currents carry that plastic to the tourist island of Bali, it’s a public relations nightmare. This video taken by British diver Rich Horner last year pretty much sums up the scale of the problem as he tries to navigate through a sea of plastic just below the water’s surface.

“The two sisters got the idea for Bye Bye Plastic Bags in 2013 after a lesson at school about influential world leaders — change-makers — including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

” ‘My sister and I went home that day thinking, “Well, what can we do as kids living on the island of Bali?” ‘ Melati Wijsen says. … The answer was right in front of them. Literally. On the beach in front of their home. …

” ‘It got to the point where on weekends when we would go to our childhood beach, if we went swimming there, a plastic bag would wrap around your arm,’ Wijsen says. …

“They went online and discovered that over 40 countries had already banned or taxed plastic bags.

” ‘We thought, “Well, if they can do it, c’mon, Bali! C’mon, Indonesia! We can do it, too!” ‘ Wijsen says. …

“They got some friends together, went online to start a petition and got 6,000 signatures in less than a day, Wijsen says. They spread awareness through school and community workshops. They organized massive beach cleanup campaigns, all the while drawing international attention and that of local politicians too. Especially when they decided to up the ante optics-wise.

” ‘I think one of the biggest tools that pushed us forward was our decision to go on a food strike,’ Wijsen says, inspired, she says, by one of the tools used by Gandhi. ‘He also had peaceful ways of reaching his goals, of getting attention, So that was a huge inspiration for us.’

“[The governor did] what any savvy politician would do when faced with two teenage girls threatening a hunger strike. He invited them to come see him. ‘Within 24 hours, we had a phone call and then the next day we were picked up from school and escorted to the office of the governor,’ Wijsen says.

“[Governor] Pastika signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the sisters to work toward eliminating plastic on the island. … Melati Wijsen says she learned a lot about dealing with politicians. …

” ‘Being 14 and skipping school on a Tuesday because I had to learn about draft regulations and suggestions really was an interesting learning curve for me,’ she says. Dancing with politicians, she says, is like three steps forward, two steps back and again, and again. ‘It’s almost like the cha-cha.’ …

“Just last month, the new governor of Bali announced a law banning single-use plastic in 2019, thanks in part to the sisters’ efforts and those of like-minded NGOs. …

” ‘We literally prove that kids can do things, and Bye Bye Plastic Bags has become this platform where kids can feel like their voices are being heard. … This is my No. 1 focus right now,’ she says. ‘It consumes almost every thought in my body. I mean, it’s like a full-time job.’

“Is she obsessed or just focused? ‘A healthy chunk of both,’ she says, laughing, adding that her mother helps keep her balanced. ‘Some days, she’ll just be like, “Melati, take a day off, like go to the beach with your friends and just don’t pick up the plastic, just sit there.” ‘ ” More at NPR, here.

I have to give a shout-out to teachers like the ones who motivated these teens. Can anyone doubt that teachers are important?

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Photo: Matthew Podolsky
Conservationist Alfred Larson, 96, has installed hundreds of bluebird next boxes in southern Idaho, allowing scientists to study Mountain Bluebirds as the species recovers from a decline.

In my area of New England, I don’t often see bluebirds. I see lots of bluebird houses people put up to entice them, but few bluebirds. You can imagine how excited I was one wintry day a few years back when a whole flock showed up in our deciduous holly. It was amazing. And never repeated.

A conservationist in his 90s who wanted to learn more about Western and Mountain Bluebirds has turned southern Idaho into a bluebird haven. Now, that’s something I’d like to see!

James Crugnale writes a the Audubon website, “In 1978, Alfred Larson was looking for a hobby that would keep him busy after he retired from his job at a sawmill plant near Boise, Idaho. He remembers reading an article in National Geographic that captured his imagination—about crafting wooden nests for bluebirds to save them from dizzying declines. Around this same time, he and his wife Hilda welcomed a new guest to their backyard: a Western Bluebird.

“ ‘We noticed a bluebird going in and out of a cavity of an old, dead snag,’ Larson says. … I had heard about bluebird trails out East that Lawrence Zeleny had set up. If I put up boxes on my ranch, I’d have a captive group of birds to take pictures of.’ …

“Four decades later, at the age of 96, Larson is monitoring almost 350 nest boxes on six different bluebird trails across Southwest Idaho. From the Owyhee Mountains to Lake Cascade, he and his fellow community scientists peek into the rustic abodes every nine days to band any residents and jot down notes on behavior and growth. Larson organizes the data and shares it with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s Nestwatch program. …

“Prior to the big nest box craze, all three North American species—Western, Mountain, and Eastern—saw a major dip in population numbers, due to ‘the elimination of dead trees with the invention of gas-powered chainsaws in the 1930s . . . along with the widespread use of pesticides to kill insects,’ says bluebird photographer and expert Stan Tekiela. Studies in the 1970s tied DDT to the death of hundreds of Mountain Bluebird chicks in western Canada. …

“Many of Larson’s trail buddies are wary of the day he decides to retire again. Boyd Steele, a volunteer who regularly assists Larson with the nest boxes, says the nonagenarian has been steadily passing down his knowledge. But his devotion to bluebirds will be hard to replace. ‘I don’t think there’s anybody who is as dedicated as Al,’ Steele says.

“Filmmaker Matthew Podolsky echoes that sentiment. After being introduced to Larson through a graduate advisor at Boise State University, he and his peer Neil Paprocki tracked the local legend with a camera for weeks. The resulting 30-minute documentary, titled Bluebird Man, of course, went on to be nominated for an Emmy Award in 2015.”

More here, at the Audubon website.

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This is Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. She started the Friday school strikes that are spreading around the world and made a splash scolding power brokers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

You have probably heard of the ubiquitous Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who is leading a youth movement to address global warming. But there are many other climate movements right now, as I learned when I read Mary Robinson’s inspiring book Climate Justice. One example she cites is an Australia-based organization called 1 Million Women, which was started by a woman who was able to cut way, way back on her family’s carbon footprint and wanted to share what she learned.

One Million Women’s website includes a pollution-cutting activity center that “has 50+ ways to cut pollution, covering energy, money, household, food, travel, shopping, sharing and a special girls section. Each activity has a pollution value attached. Choose the activities that work for you,” it suggests.

For those of you who really want to roll up your sleeves and tackle daily activities, 1 Million Women also has a handy feature called the Carbon Challenge, which provides sustainability tips and helps you track your progress in reducing pollution. See that here. I confess that I haven’t taken the challenge yet, but I’d love to hear from anyone who gives it a shot.

The blog for 1 Million Women features entries from many activists, each focusing on a different aspect of climate change activism. The toilet paper post was funny. In another post, Eve White, “mum of two and a freelance editor with a PhD in Ecology, … founding member of Australian Mums for a Safe Climate and Australian Parents for Climate Action,” asks, “Why are we leaving it up to our kids?”

She writes, “In November, 2018, 15,000 Australian kids went on strike from school to demand stronger action on climate change. Other actions will follow, with the next climate strike planned for March, 2019. Listening to these kids speak, it is clear that they are articulate and informed. They include school captains and future doctors, leaders and business people; not the kind of kids who’d routinely skip school. But without the power to vote they are worried about their future, frustrated with inaction on climate change and desperate to be heard.

“It is wrong that it has fallen on the kids to do this. As one young speaker said, ‘We are expected to tidy up after ourselves. Adults should tidy up their own mess, not leave it for us. This is not fair.’ ”

White goes on to list “ways that parents can support their kids in the fight for the future, and not all of them require a lot of effort,” like talking to more people about the issue, supporting the kids’ movement logistically and financially, writing to the local paper, and getting active in national environmental groups. Another “not a lot of effort” thing to do if you are on social media might be to follow people who are working on this issue and share information with your followers.

More.

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Photo: Rebecca Kordas/UBC
Limpets are easy to overlook — so too is their effect on the environment. But careful consideration of how all the life forms in an area interact is key to understanding how ecosystems thrive.

I’ve been reading a small book called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. A friend offered to lend it to me, and much to my surprise, I’m finding it fascinating. It’s by a woman with a debilitating illness who describes her growing interest in a snail brought to her on a wild violet plant. As the author learns, there is more to snails than meets the eye. A lot more.

The same may be said of limpets. Christopher Pollon explains why at Hakai Magazine.

“As the ocean temperature rises, it may be the little things that make the biggest difference to the survival and resilience of living things.

“Take the limpet, a tiny snail-like gastropod with a hefty appetite for the minute plants that live in the intertidal — the space between low and high tide. In 2014, Becca Kordas, then a zoology doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia, tested the effect these creatures have on the ecosystem when exposed to ocean warming. She found that their influence was huge.

“Kordas launched her project by sinking four sets of settlement plates in the intertidal zone of Saltspring Island, British Columbia, about 55 kilometers southwest of Vancouver. For 16 months, Kordas and her colleagues tracked which plants and animals established themselves on the four different types of plots. Kordas controlled the limpets’ access to half of the plates, while they were free to graze on the other half. She also simulated the effects of ocean warming by tinting some of the plates black to attract the sun’s heat.

“By the end of the study, the differences between the four sets of plates were stark. Kordas found that when limpets’ access is restricted, the artificially warmed intertidal ecosystem collapsed — the diversity of life largely replaced by a mat of microalgae. Limpets with access to the plates, however, maintained a healthier ecological community, even in a warming environment.

“What is it about limpets that helps maintain a diverse and complex community, even when their environment warms?

“Kordas says limpets eat huge amounts of microalgae, including microscopic diatoms and the spores of larger algal species. This clears the terrain for a variety of life.

“ ‘When limpets are allowed in, they make space for things like barnacles, and then those barnacles in turn create little condos for other animals to live in,’ she says.

“In a sense, limpets are tiny ecosystem engineers. … The study comes at a critical time for intertidal life in the northeast Pacific Ocean. In this area, the summer low tide typically occurs around noon, which exposes intertidal species to warm summer temperatures. The heat shakes up the intertidal community, but shakes it up more without limpets around.

“The lesson of Kordas’s study, however, is not about limpets per se. It’s about the need to better understand the role of every organism in an ecosystem.”

Hat tip: Pablo Rodas-Martini, @pablorodas, on Twitter.

More here.

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