Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Photo: Erika Page/The Christian Science Monitor.
Yachts are not supposed to be anchored above Posidonia seagrass per a 2018 decree that the Mediterranean island of Menorca hopes will allow tourism to coexist with ecology.

Tourism can wreak havoc on a community’s determination to protect its environment, but educating tourists can make it work. At the Christian Science Monitor, Erika Page reports that on one Mediterranean island, even children know how to take action.

“When the yacht lowers its anchor into the sea off the Spanish island of Menorca, nine-year-old Nubia Manzanares, playing on a nearby dock with neighbors, immediately notices the ecological blunder and leaps into action.

“The untrained eye wouldn’t notice anything wrong. But Nubia, who has snorkeled in these waters her whole life, knows immediately that the ship has anchored itself directly on top of a meadow of Posidonia oceanica, a seagrass most tourists have never heard of. The anchor will damage the precious plant and likely tear it out of the earth when it goes to leave.

“She grabs her paddleboard and oar and sets out to warn the boat that it is parked illegally. (She brings her uncle along as well, just in case the boater doesn’t react kindly.)

“Nubia is one of many Menorcans who are doing everything they know how to protect the ribbon-like Posidonia, which lives underwater in expansive meadows, known to some as the ‘lungs of the Mediterranean.’ Occupying around 250 square miles in the Balearic Islands alone, the plant is as important in the fight against climate change as it is for the local ecosystem. But it is disappearing at the alarming rate of 5% per year.

Menorca has earned a reputation for its sustainable model of tourism, in many cases having prioritized environmental protectionism over tourist development.

“But as tourism has grown in recent decades, and Posidonia meadows continue to shrink, the island is facing a new and serious challenge. Menorcans are working to solve the problem by digging deep into the values that have made the island the oasis it is today: respect, balance, and well-informed care for the island as a whole.

“ ‘High-quality tourism is tourism that understands and values what and who we are,’ says Isaac Olives Vidal, director of sustainable projects for the Consell Insular, a local government body. ‘This is the most important thing: that the people who come to your house, or to Menorca, or to any other place, value what you are, what you have, and that they respect it.’

“Posidonia is found all around coastlines of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago off the Spanish coast that includes popular tourist destinations Ibiza and Mallorca, as well as the smaller and more pristine Menorca.

Posidonia meadows soak up five times more carbon dioxide each year than a similarly sized segment of the Amazon rainforest and are a major producer of the region’s oxygen.

“The seagrass also acts as a powerful water filtration system, provides a habitat for 20% of the Mediterranean’s species, protects coastlines from erosion, and is responsible for around 85% of the island’s sand formation. Without Posidonia, locals are quick to note, there would be no crystalline waters or white sand beaches for tourists to visit.

“Some scientists estimate that nearly 30% of the Mediterranean’s Posidonia has already disappeared, due to damage from boat anchors, eutrophication (excessive accumulation of nutrients), and construction projects. Because the plant grows back at the slow rate of less than half an inch each year, and replanting Posidonia is difficult and costly, protection is key.

“Saving what is left of the Posidonia won’t be easy for Menorca, an island whose economy depends fundamentally on tourism. …

“ ‘In general, the people of Menorca are much more conservationist,’ says Victor Carretero, a marine technician at the Balearic Ornithological Group (GOB) Menorca, an environmental organization that grew out of demonstrations against plans for urban development in the 1970s. …

“For Nubia’s mother, Rocio Manzanares, protecting the Posidonia is a matter of respect.

“When her two daughters were younger, they sometimes complained about the seagrass – even the most ardent Posidonia devotees admit that the plant stinks when washed up on the beach. So Ms. Manzanares modeled the reverence she knows the plant deserves.

“ ‘Well, I love the Posidonia,’ she would respond excitedly to her children, telling stories about the many ways the plant protects the island – things she learned from GOB Menorca. ‘When kids say it’s gross, I give them another vision,” she says.

“But in the past two decades, she’s noticed that the tourists who come to the island don’t treat the beaches or the ocean with the same respect her daughters now do. …

“ ‘The real political interest is nautical tourism,’ says Pep Escrivà, a firefighter who wrote a proposal to formally protect specific regions of the island from motorized boats. … ‘[Politicians are] scared that if they pressure the boat renters, they won’t have as much business. But that’s the wrong way of seeing things. Because if you protect the natural world, you create space for another type of tourist.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here. The beautiful pictures of the island will make you want to go there, but if you do, please be respectful of the seagrass!

Read Full Post »

Photo: Larry D. Moore/ Wikimedia Commons.
Prof. Gretchen Daily of Stanford writes about “natural capital” and argues that nature preserves are not enough: conservation awareness needs to be part of all development decisions.

Needless to say, we shouldn’t have to put a monetary value on nature to save it, but then again, we shouldn’t have to offer a million-dollar lottery to the unvaccinated to do the right thing.

For those who need capitalistic arguments about the obvious good of our natural world, there’s a professor who can provide the data.

Gretchen Daily, says Tik Root at the Washington Post, “is a pioneer in the field known as ‘natural capital.’ Using science and software, she shows stakeholders why it benefits everyone to prioritize conservation.

“Colombia’s Gulf of Morrosquillo is home to thousands of mangroves. Their roots arc downward into salty seawater while their limbs climb upward — a mesmerizing entanglement of branches and leaves.

“But the mangroves must compete with hotels, resorts and other financial ventures in the tourist-dependent area, which spans 325 miles of Caribbean coastline. One study found that between 1960 and 2011, the mangrove population in Colombia dropped by more than half, largely due to human activities such as development or trash dumping.

“The burgeoning tourist destination of Rincón del Mar, for instance, is one of many towns along the gulf that was built on land cleared of the trees. And because there is no central garbage collection system, people’s wrappers, bottles, bags and other refuse often end up in the mangroves that still stand.

“In early 2020, the government signed a five-year, $300 million pact to promote tourism in the gulf area, where approximately 350,000 Colombians live. It called for, among other initiatives, building hotels, a hospital and aqueducts to alleviate a dearth of drinking water that threatens the growth of the tourism sector. But the plan could also put even more pressure on the mangroves, as well as the sea grasses, coral reefs and fisheries offshore.

“For Gretchen Daily, threats like these are also moments of opportunity.

‘Nature is often just seen as kind of in the way of prosperity,’ she said. ‘What we’re saying is that nature is crucial to prosperity.’

“Daily is a professor of biology at Stanford University and a pioneer in a field known as ‘natural capital.’ The term refers to the soil, air, water and other assets that nature has to offer. As a conservation model, it is rooted in the idea that nature has a measurable value to humans and that protection efforts must go far beyond walled-off reserves and be broadly integrated into development practice and planning. …

“By the time Daily and her team had identified the potential for impact in the Gulf of Morrosquillo, the coronavirus pandemic had confined the 56-year old to her home in Stanford, Calif. Zoom — which is decidedly not her natural habitat — became the norm.

“But within a matter of months, the Natural Capital Project put together a report for the Colombian government detailing that more than a third, or 118 miles, of the coastline had high exposure to flooding and coastal erosion. Protecting and restoring mangroves, the authors said, could help with that issue — especially along two specific stretches of the coast, including Rincón, where local activists say they’ve removed many tons of trash.

“Mangroves, the report highlighted, also nurture robust fisheries for local communities and sequester carbon at a rate two to four times greater than tropical rainforests. Left in their current state, the Morrosquillo mangroves will store 62 million tons of carbon by 2030 — the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road for a year — which could help the country toward its commitments under the Paris climate accord.

“ ‘Until now we didn’t have the specific information in a simple way to show the importance of maintaining the mangroves,’ said Santiago Aparicio, director of environment and sustainable development for the Colombian department of national planning. He added, ‘you don’t protect what you don’t value.’

“The next step, he said, is to take the information to mayors and local officials to incorporate that value into their development plans. [One] ‘ideal situation’ would be using mangroves instead of cement walls as barriers against rising sea levels fueled by climate change.

“For Daily, the work in Colombia has met all three of the criteria she uses when deciding whether to pursue a project: There must be a policy window that allows change; partners on the ground must be committed to that change; and the change must be scalable. …

“Daily’s own scientific curiosity dates back to middle school — or rather, she says, to her walks on the way to school.

“In 1977, Daily and her family lived in Kalbach, West Germany, where her father was stationed in the military. Then a 12-year-old, Daily and her sister would walk about a kilometer to class. It wasn’t far. But the route passed a coal plant.

“ ‘You could taste the acid on the tongue,’ she said of the pollution. The smell of coal permeated the air. ‘That turned me on to science.’ …

“ ‘Reserves are too small, too few and too isolated to sustain enough nature,’ she explained. ‘We have to be able to integrate nature into our normal lives.’ …

“ ‘Gretchen has really been the forerunner in clarifying the natural capital movement,’ said Carl Folke, director of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He said one major catalyst came in late 1997, when Daily edited the book Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems — recently referred to as ‘one of the most influential books published on the environment in the past 30 years.’ Read more at the Washington Post, here.

By the way, Francesca Forrest has a delightful fictional take on the mangroves-versus-hotels issue in her novella Lagoonfire, which features an imagined world that is both uncomfortably and amusingly familiar.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Salvatore Laporta / KONTROLAB / LightRocket via Getty Images.
A beach in Naples, Italy, covered in plastic waste following a storm in 2018.

The pandemic unfortunately increased my use of takeout meals packaged in plastic, but today I’m back to thinking about ways to reduce plastic consumption. For example, instead of buying brands that usually come in plastic, I look for alternatives in glass: mayonnaise, olive oil, applesauce, lemon juice. Suzanne showed me a brand of yogurt that comes in glass, too. And my water bottle is glass with a kind of rubber coating.

You do have to hunt for these things. It’s not like government here is going to help you as the European Union would. This month, for instance, the EU banned many throwaway plastic products.

At YaleEnvironment360, Paul Hockenos reports, “In Europe, beachgoers have grown accustomed to the dispiriting sight of plastic garbage strewn along shorelines. Indeed, 85 percent of the continent’s saltwater beaches and seas exceed pollution standards on marine litter. The Mediterranean Sea is the most defiled of all, with researchers collecting an average of 274 pieces of plastic refuse per 100 meters of shoreline. And beneath the waves, microplastics have turned coastal waters into toxic ‘plastic soups.’

“In an all-out push to clean up Europe’s beaches — one plank in the European Union’s trailblazing efforts to address the almost 28 million U.S. tons of plastic waste it generates annually — a ban comes into effect July 3 that halts the sale in EU markets of the 10 plastic products that most commonly wash up on the continent’s shores. These include, among other items, plastic bottle caps, cutlery, straws and plates, as well as Styrofoam food and beverage containers.

“The ban is the most visible sign of Europe’s efforts to curtail plastics pollution by creating the world’s first-ever circular plastics regime. By the end of this decade, this will lead to a ban on throwaway plastics, the creation of a comprehensive reuse system for all other plastics, and the establishment of an expansive and potentially lucrative European market for recycled plastics.

“A raft of EU measures is now driving investments and innovation toward circular solutions that, according to experts and EU officials, will come to define Europe’s low-carbon economy and enhance its global competitiveness. A circular economy is one in which products and materials are kept in use along their entire life cycle, from design and manufacturing to reuse or recycling. In contrast to the current, linear system, products don’t end up in the rubbish bin, but rather are reintroduced into the production process.

“Under the EU Plastics Strategy, put forward in 2018, waste guidelines will overhaul the way plastic products are designed, used and recycled. All plastic packaging on the EU market must be recyclable by 2030, and the use of microplastics circumscribed.

The measures are the toughest in the world and have already pushed plastic packaging recycling rates in the EU to an all-time high of 41.5 percent — three times that of the United States.

“The EU has set a target for recycling 50 percent of plastic packaging by 2025, a goal that now looks within reach. And in 2025, a separate collection target of 77 percent will be in place for plastic bottles, increasing to 90 percent by 2029.

“This overarching regime will rely on the widespread adoption of extended producer responsibility schemes, which means that if a company introduces packaging or packaged goods into a country’s market, that firm remains responsible for the full cost of the collection, transportation, recycling or incineration of its products. In effect, the polluter pays. …

“ ‘The EU is taking the creation of a circular economy very seriously, and plastics are at the center of it,’ said Henning Wilts, director of circular economy at Germany’s Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. …

“The U.S., which generates the largest amount of plastic waste in the world, is awash in waste now that China — the largest manufacturer of plastic — no longer accepts imported waste; many U.S. cities end up pitching plastic waste into landfills or burning it. Congress has commissioned the National Academies of Sciences to conduct a sweeping review of the U.S. contribution to plastic waste, due out at the end of this year. …

“ ‘The 10-items ban is big. It’s not greenwashing,’ said Clara Löw, an analyst at the Öko-Institute, a German think tank. ‘There are many more measures afoot within the European Green Deal to rein in plastics and establish circularity as the cornerstone principle of Europe’s plastics economy. Even most Europeans aren’t aware of how much is happening right now.’ …

“Carmine Trecroci, an economist and recycling expert at the University of Brescia in Italy, said that external factors like the price of oil have a major impact; as long as oil is cheap, which it has been in recent years, so too is plastics production, making it all the harder to rein in. The plastics sector in the EU is big business, employing 1.5 million people and generating 350 billion euros in 2019. Trecroci said the powerful Italian plastics lobby fought fiercely to block the 10-item ban, and then to slow and dilute it. In the end, however, the EU approved the ban.”

More at Yale Environment 360, here. Vested interests are always going to fight back against measures like that, but the EU shows that common sense can prevail. In the US, if consumers boycott plastic, I think we will see companies changing.

July 22, 2021 Update: Wow, I just saw that Maine is doing what we’ve been asking for. Read this.

Read Full Post »

Denver is now constructing what is likely the largest sewer heat-recovery project in North America.

I have no idea what leads one to a career in sewers, but judging from this story, it can involve tackling really interesting challenges to help the environment.

As Sam Brasch reported at National Public Radio, “A secret cache of clean energy is lurking in sewers, and there are growing efforts to put it to work in the battle against climate change.

“The U.S. Department of Energy estimates Americans wash enough energy down the drain every year to power about 30 million homes. The sources are often everyday items inside homes. Think hot showers, washing machines and sinks. Evolving technology is making it easier to harness that mostly warm water.

“Denver is now constructing what is likely the largest sewer heat-recovery project in North America, according to Enwave, a Canadian energy company set to operate the system.

“Over the next few years, a $1 billion remodel will turn the 250-acre site, home to the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, into a hub for art, education and agriculture. The revamped National Western Center will include about a million square feet of new indoor space, all of which will be heated and cooled with energy from the sewer pipes below.

“Brad Buchanan, the CEO leading the redevelopment, said the project has already changed how he thinks about the best location for real estate. Big pieces of sewer infrastructure have long repelled development. Now he imagines they might be sought out as a way to save energy costs and avoid greenhouse gas emissions.

The National Western Center estimates the project will help it annually avoid the carbon equivalent of driving an average gas-powered car around the equator 250 times. …

“The technology to harvest sewer heat isn’t complicated. At the National Western Center, construction crews have already completed a pit exposing the main sewer line. The wastewater inside stays a mild 55 to 75 degrees year-round, local officials say, no matter the weather outside. That consistent temperature can be tapped to heat and cool above-ground buildings.

“The key is a massive heat pump, which will be housed in a central plant on the campus. The device works like a reversible air conditioning unit. In the winter, it will transfer energy from the sewage into a clean-water loop connecting the buildings, adding heat to indoor spaces. The process can then be flipped to keep things cool in the summer.

“And to answer an obvious question: No, the raw effluent is never exposed to the air, so people occupying the buildings won’t get hit with waves of sewer stink. …

“If sewer energy catches on, one reason could be the potential benefits for wastewater districts. That’s because warm sewage causes its own environmental problems. In Denver, wastewater is often hotter than the South Platte River, its final destination after running through a treatment plant. This ‘thermal pollution’ can imperil native plants and wildlife. …

“The National Western Center has moved to protect its supply in the event of a kind of sewer-heat gold rush. The City and County of Denver, a partner in the project, exercised a three-year option for exclusive access to the energy inside the pipelines running through the campus. Buchanan, the project CEO, said it amounts to a new sort of environmental resource. Instead of mineral rights or water rights, his development holds sewer thermal energy rights.

” ‘We have it protected because we’re counting on that energy in perpetuity,’ he said.”

More at NPR, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Tini and Jacob Wijpkema.
Rare cactus, Copiapoa cinerascens, found in Chile. According to the NY Times, “Cactus traffickers are cleaning out the deserts.”

Today’s story, about an endangered cactus from Chile, demonstrates the role individuals’ tastes can play in the environment. Our individual choices add up to a force for right or wrong, whether we leave our engine running while we go shopping or we collect plants and animals because they are rare. “One and two and 50 make a million,” you know.

At the New York Times, Rachel Nuwer says some rare cactuses are getting too popular with unscrupulous collectors.

“Andrea Cattabriga has seen a lot of cactuses where they didn’t belong. But he’d never seen anything like Operation Atacama, a bust carried out last year in Italy. A cactus expert and president of the Association for Biodiversity and Conservation, Mr. Cattabriga often helps the police identify the odd specimen seized from tourists or intercepted in the post.

“This time, however, Mr. Cattabriga was confronted by a stunning display: more than 1,000 of some of the world’s rarest cactuses, valued at over $1.2 million on the black market.

“Almost all of the protected plants had come from Chile, which does not legally export them, and some were well over a century old. The operation — which occurred in February 2020, but is being made public now because of the cactuses’ recent return to Chile — was most likely the biggest international cactus seizure in nearly three decades. It also highlights how much money traffickers may be earning from the trade. …

‘Here is an organism that has evolved over millions of years to be able to survive in the harshest conditions you can find on the planet, but that finishes its life in this way — just as an object to be sold,’ [Mr. Cattabriga] said.

“As with the market for tiger bones, ivory, pangolin scales and rhino horn, a flourishing illegal global trade exists for plants. ‘Just about every plant you can probably think of is trafficked in some way,’ said Eric Jumper, a special agent with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Cactuses and other succulents are among the most sought after, along with orchids and, increasingly, carnivorous species.

“Trafficking can take a serious toll. Over 30 percent of the world’s nearly 1,500 cactus species are threatened with extinction. Unscrupulous collection is the primary driver of that decline, affecting almost half of imperiled species. Yet this realm of illegal trade is typically overlooked, a prime example of ‘plant blindness,’ or the human tendency to broadly ignore this important branch on the tree of life.

“ ‘The basic functioning of the planet would effectively grind to a halt without plants, but people care more about animals,’ said Jared Margulies, a geographer at the University of Alabama who studies plant trafficking. ‘A lot of plant species are not receiving the amount of attention they would be if they had eyes and faces.’

“Yet the size of Operation Atacama could be a notable exception. It is also the largest known example of cactuses stolen from the wild being repatriated for reintroduction into their native habitat.

“Experts also hope the case can be a turning point for how countries, collectors, conservationists and the industry deal with the thorny issue of international cactus trafficking.

“ ‘Society as a whole can no longer continue to have a naïve view of this problem,’ said Pablo Guerrero, a botanist at the University of Concepción in Chile. …

“Cactuses confiscated by the Italian authorities are normally destroyed or, if they are rare species, sent to botanical gardens. But with Operation Atacama, ‘it was very different,’ Mr. Cattabriga said. … At first, there was discussion of sending the plants to other botanical gardens in Italy and broader Europe. But Mr. Cattabriga, [Lt. Col. Simone Cecchini, chief of the wildlife division of the local police department] and Dr. Guerrero were adamant they be returned to Chile for both conservation and symbolic purposes.

“Working with [Bárbara Goettsch, co-chair of the Cactus and Succulent Plant Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature] and several others, they spent much of 2020 navigating Italian, Chilean and international bureaucracy to secure permission to send the plants home. ‘It’s the first time this has happened, so no one was really clear on how to do this,’ Dr. Guerrero said.

“The authorities finally agreed to the transfer in late 2020. But neither Chile nor Italy would pay the approximately $3,600 shipping cost.

“Dr. Goettsch managed to secure about three-quarters of the funds from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the botanical garden in Milan pitched in as well. The rest was provided by Liz Vayda, owner of B. Willow, a plant shop in Baltimore that regularly donates to environmental groups.

“Finally, in late April, 844 cactuses made the return journey to Chile.”

Read about the homecoming at the Times, here.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
MacArthur Fellow and environmental health advocate Catherine Coleman Flowers of Alabama.

Today’s article is about an environmental health advocate from rural Alabama who was honored recently by the MacArthur Foundation. One thing her story suggests to me is that when parents demonstrate concern for the world around them, later generations can work miracles. The parents of Catherine Coleman Flowers were civil rights activists in the 1960s.

Sarah Kaplan writes at the Washington Post, “To Catherine Coleman Flowers, this is ‘holy ground’: the place where her ancestors were enslaved and her parents fought for civil rights and she came of age. …

“Yet this ground also harbors a threat, one made worse by climate change. Untreated sewage is coursing through this rural community, a consequence of historic government disinvestment, basic geology and recent changes in the soil. On rainy days, foul effluent burbles up into bathtubs and sinks, and pools in yards. Some residents have hookworm, an illness rarely seen in developed nations.

“It’s America’s ‘dirty secret,’ Flowers said. … Heavier rainfall caused by climate change is saturating soil and raising water tables — confounding septic systems. From the flooded coasts of Florida to thawing Alaska towns, an estimated half-million U.S. households lack adequate sanitation.

“Now Flowers, a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius,’ is partnering with environmental engineers at Columbia University on a solution. They are working on a new kind of toilet that will act as a mini sewage treatment facility.

Instead of flushing waste, the system they’re working to build will filter, clean and recycle waste on site. Instead of sending raw sewage into the soil, it will turn it into water for use in washing machines, and into nutrients for fertilizer, and perhaps even energy for homes. …

“What was once a problem can become a solution, Flowers said. And the change will start in Lowndes County, as it has before.

“To Flowers, 62, the Lowndes County of her childhood was part rural idyll, part activism hotbed. … In 1965, about 80 percent of the county’s population was Black, but not a single Black person was registered to vote. …

“But then protesters from Selma marched down Lowndes’s dirt roads on their way to Montgomery, and a wave of activism erupted. … Flowers’s father, a military veteran and salesman, and her mother, a teacher’s aide, were heavily involved. Civil rights leaders streamed to their cinder-block home. …

“Her parents’ activism connected Flowers to the world beyond Lowndes County. As a teenager, she joined the Alabama Students for Civil Rights and spent a summer in D.C. as a youth fellow at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation. She read ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X,’ wrote politics-infused poetry and dreamed of becoming the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In 11th grade, frustrated with subpar conditions at her high school, Flowers wrote an exposé for a local newsletter. That led to the formation of a community group, then a lawsuit and, ultimately, to the resignation of the principal and school board superintendent.

“ ‘My father’s famous thing he would always say was, “Catherine, if you take one step, God will take two,” ‘ Flowers said. It meant that change was possible, but you had to do the work.”

The article goes on to say that after Flowers had moved away, she learned her home county was suffering and that part of the problem was that the soil had changed and no longer worked for septic systems, which “require permeable soil. … All over the county, septic systems were breaking down. Heavy rainfall would seal up the soil until effluent had nowhere to go but up onto lawns or back into homes. …

“Flowers — then director of the nonprofit Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE) — set out to determine the scale of the problem. …

“ ‘This is America,’ Flowers said. ‘We’re not supposed to have these kinds of problems — at least, that’s what we tell ourselves. But we do.’ …

“Climate change is making existing deficiencies worse. Rising sea levels have elevated the water table in coastal areas, shrinking the depth of leach fields and increasing contamination. Days of extreme rainfall — which have doubled in the Southeast as a consequence of warming — stymie septic systems. …

“ ‘Climate change is like a magnifying glass for everything,’ Flowers said. It exacerbates neglect, widens inequality and exposes problems once hidden. …

“Flowers has a vision for a better septic system. It’s cheap to buy and easy to run. It’s equipped with sensors that can monitor for signs of pathogens, including the coronavirus. Instead of allowing sewage to seep into the ground, the system separates waste into its component parts, which can then be recycled. …

“In Kartik Chandran, she found a partner who shares that vision. They met five years ago at a conference on wastewater issues. Chandran, an environmental engineer at Columbia University, was struck by how similar Lowndes County’s waste problems were to those in his native India. Flowers remembered hearing about Chandran’s research and thinking, ‘This is the technological solution we need.’ ” Read how it would work here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Oxfam / Jacob Turcotte

The leveling aspect of Covid, or any pandemic, helps people realize that one person’s situation affects their own. If people living in poverty have no way to stay safe, wealthy people more likely to get sick, too. Climate change is similar: pollution in a poor neighborhood will ultimately affect your neighborhood.

Today’s article looks at some connectivity lessons society is learning — and what companies are doing in response.

Peter Ford reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “Verneuil-sur-Seine is not the sort of place you expect to find a revolution going on. It’s a sleepy, nondescript suburb outside Paris, its streets hushed on a recent midweek morning. But in a cramped office in a converted apartment, an ebullient American mother of five and her French husband, a former auto executive, are busy reinventing capitalism.

“Putting purpose before profits and ethics above everything, they are building a new sort of business. ‘We wanted to bring all our personal values into the company,’ says Elizabeth Soubelet, a trained midwife. …

“Ms. Soubelet and her husband Nicolas make Squiz, re-useable pouches for toddlers to suck applesauce from, which help parents cut down on plastic packaging waste. Theirs is a tiny company with ten employees [but]even titans of finance are on the same track as a new mood sweeps through businesses on both sides of the Atlantic, prompting CEOs to shift out of greed and into good. …

“Battered by the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, tainted by yawning disparities in income and opportunity, and focused tightly on the bottom line, ‘capitalism has been derailed,’ says Paul Collier, an Oxford University economist and recent author of a surprise best-seller The Future of Capitalism. …

‘Potentially, capitalism is a wonderful system,’ he adds. ‘But it doesn’t run on autopilot. It needs rules.’ …

“When the global businessman’s bible, the Financial Times, launches a campaign entitled ‘Capitalism: Time for a Reset’ as it did last September, you know something is afoot.

“In the developed countries where capitalism first flowered, but shifted away from its social obligations, its credibility today is badly tarnished. A worldwide poll earlier this year found that 56% of respondents thought the system was doing ‘more harm than good.’ And when the pro-free market think tank Legatum surveyed British public opinion in 2017, it found the notion of capitalism most often associated with greed, selfishness, and corruption. … 

“Labor’s slice of the global income pie has fallen from 54% to 39% since 1970, while the share going to wealthier individuals who own capital (such as stocks) has risen correspondingly, [and] executive pay, meanwhile, has reached astronomical levels. …

“It wasn’t always like this; Henry Ford was keen on reminding people that ‘a business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.’ … That approach [is] stirring now in more and more boardrooms as business leaders carve out a new role for their companies. Last August 181 U.S. corporate members of the Business Roundtable, including the bosses of Apple, Walmart and PepsiCo, signed a pledge proclaiming their ‘fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders’ and renouncing the doctrine of shareholder primacy. …

“ ‘It’s these notions of purpose, trustworthiness, values, and culture that underpin a reconceptualization of business for the 21st century,’ said Colin Mayer, the former dean of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, at a recent seminar.

“But what does that look like in real life? For Elizabeth Soubelet, it all began with shame. She was buying applesauce in 64-pouch family packs, she recalls, ‘and my kids were finishing them in like 14 seconds flat’ and then throwing the aluminum-lined plastic containers away. …

“She decided to make her own, and with her businessman husband set about creating a company with a simple mission: to help people reduce waste by using the company’s reusable pouches. … But Squiz also has a broader vision of its purpose, Nicolas explains. ‘We want to build an organization that cares for people generally – our customers, our employees, our suppliers and the environment.’ …

“So as to keep the company’s carbon footprint light, and to fulfill a social purpose, Squiz entrusts its packing and dispatch to a local nonprofit employing intellectually disabled people. Last year that meant some time-consuming and costly mix-ups, but Squiz sales administrator Virginie Bartoli, who spent weeks at the packing center sorting things out, discovered a silver lining.

“ ‘I didn’t know much about handicapped people, but I realized when I was working there that everyone has the right to work,’ says Ms. Bartoli. ‘This job I do has made me more human, in some ways.’ …

“Still, what does all the care for the environment, the employee perks, the insistence that all materials be recyclable, do to the bottom line? Just how much does it raise the cost per unit?

” ‘That’s a question that drives me crazy,’ Elizabeth splutters. ‘What would you call the base cost? The China price? You can only tell the “real” price when you add in the damage to peoples’ health and to the planet.’ “

Hmmm. I do believe that committed individuals and small companies might stick to their ideals in this realm. But when it comes to large corporations, count me skeptical. They will be good citizens if it’s good business financially. If not, not. What do you think? More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Murdo MacLeod/ Guardian
Scottish village buys a large part of Langholm Moor from the Duke of Buccleuch
, planning to create a nature reserve and a regeneration project.

Buccleuch, Buccleuch. It has a familiar ring to it. Didn’t we stay at the Buccleuch Arms on our honeymoon trip through Scotland? I think so, but it’s been 50 years, so …

I do clearly remember the beautiful rolling hills of the Scottish Lowlands and the black-faced sheep wandering over the roads like they owned them, which of course, they did. So whether or not I was ever in the Buccleuch environs, I love today’s story about a Scottish village’s determination to preserve 8 square miles of beauty.

Severin Carrell writes at the Guardian, “A village in southern Scotland has succeeded in buying a large part of Langholm Moor, a famous grouse moor held for centuries by the dukes of Buccleuch, among the UK’s most powerful hereditary peers.

“Buccleuch Estates said on Monday it would be selling just over 2,000 hectares (about 5,000 acres) of Langholm Moor [to] the local community, which plans to create a leading new nature reserve and community regeneration project.

“The deal, the largest ever community buyout in the south of Scotland, follows months of fundraising by the Langholm Initiative, which only succeeded with hours to spare before the deadline of 31 October.

“Kevin Cumming, the initiative’s project leader, said he was thrilled with the deal. ‘Community ownership can be a catalyst for regeneration, which we want to show can be done with the environment at its heart,’ he said. …

“Buccleuch Estates told the campaigners it would continue talking about the possibility of buying the remaining 2,100 hectares that covers much of the former grouse moor, which would involve the Langholm Initiative raising [almost $3 million more]. …

“The Langholm buyout is one of three community land sales involving Buccleuch in south-west Scotland, all part-funded with taxpayers’ money.

“Earlier this year, Buccleuch Estates sold 300 hectares of land around the village of Newcastleton and has offered to sell 1,560 hectares of moorland, pasture and brownfield land to a community trust at Wanlockhead in the Leadhills for nearly [$2 million].

The Langholm Initiative hopes the moorland regeneration, ecotourism and rural industries it plans to fund will bring enough money to plough back into community regeneration and bring in new residents.

“The scheme will focus on creating a new nature reserve called Tarras Valley, including restoring Langholm’s ancient peatlands and protecting the area’s threatened populations of hen harrier. The initiative hopes its reforestation and peatland restoration projects will attract subsidies from programmes funding measures to combat global heating.”

People who inherit vast lands they cannot afford to keep up either have to sell them or get creative. They can end up being owned by the land — a status I do not envy. I’m thinking of people I knew who inherited Rokeby on the Hudson River and rented it out for weddings and such, including the shooting of a pretty wild art film. I’m glad the Buccleuch Estates are trying to help others preserve what is sold off.

More at the Guardian, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: 3KSN
On May 4, 2007, Greensburg, Kansas, was hit by a tornado that devastated the town. Thirteen years later, Greenburg has been rebuilt, but differently.

Sometimes progress on global warming is made not by idealistic environmentalists but by pragmatists thinking about long-term costs. That was the case in a rural Kansas town that was badly damaged by a tornado.

Annie Gowen reported recently at the Washington Post, “A wind-swept farming community in southwestern Kansas, Greensburg rebuilt ‘green’ after an EF5 tornado — the most violent — barreled through at more than 200 miles per hour and nearly wiped it off the map in 2007.

“A decade later, Greensburg draws 100 percent of its electricity from a wind farm, making it one of a handful of cities in the United States to be powered solely by renewable energy. It now has an energy-efficient school, a medical center, city hall, library and commons, museum and other buildings that save more than $200,000 a year in fuel and electricity costs, according to one federal estimate. The city saves thousands of gallons of water with low-flow toilets and drought-resistance landscaping and, in the evening, its streets glow from LED lighting. …

“Greensburg is no liberal bastion. [But] leaders there now are routinely consulted by communities around the world grappling with devastating weather events from wildfires, tsunami, earthquakes and floods. …

“Greensburg’s journey has not always been easy, residents say, nor did it unfurl perfectly. A fancy rainwater irrigation system for its Main Street has never worked. Wind turbines installed for city and other local buildings were costly to maintain — and one toppled into a field. A business park built to attract companies and clean-energy jobs remains empty.

“ ‘There are lessons learned that we can share,’ said Bob Dixson, a retired postmaster who served as mayor during much of the rebuilding. ‘I totally believe that we’re a living laboratory here with a plethora of architectural design and sustainable environmental practices to share.’ …

“Environmentalists around the world are now arguing that this moment is crucial for local governments — whether they’re trying to rebuild a town burned by a wildfire or figuring out ways to revitalize their economies after a pandemic, said Katharine K. Wilkinson, a climate strategist and co-editor of the recent anthology ‘All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis.’ …

“ ‘[There] are opportunities to rethink the systems we create at a local level, and that’s where a lot of climate solutions happen,’ Wilkinson said. …

“[In Greensburg in 2007] more than 90 percent of the buildings and trees had been swept away in a matter of minutes. Twelve people died. Amid the chaos of rescue and recovery, town leaders began contemplating early on how to rebuild — and the idea of building back in a sustainable way emerged almost immediately, they said in interviews with the Post. …

“City leaders worked to build community consensus around the concept — and persuade homeowners to also embrace green as they rebuilt their homes. But it wasn’t always easy to convince some in the rugged farm community where conservative politics predominate. …

‘We tried to approach it in a practical way, not tree-hugger green, but economic green. Ramming stuff down people’s throats — especially in this part of the world — doesn’t work.’

John Janssen

“By the end of 2007, Greensburg became the first city in the country to require all municipal buildings over 4,000 square feet to be certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization. That means the buildings meet certain standards for saving energy, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are linked to global warming. …

“The city was able to halve its carbon footprint by shifting to 100 percent wind energy from a 10-turbine wind farm south of town that is owned and operated by Exelon Corp. The turbines, which began operating in 2010, are capable of producing 12.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 4,000 homes, according to Exelon. …

“An NREL [National Renewable Energy Lab] study from 2011 showed that 13 of the city’s ‘smart’ buildings save about a combined $200,000 a year in utility costs, and the homes consume about 40 percent less energy on average than before the tornado. …

“Not everything the town has tried has worked. Some of the buildings, including the school and the hospital, used to have their own smaller wind turbines to use along with solar panels, but the turbines proved costly to maintain. The hospital took its down after one toppled over, officials said. Luckily, no one was injured.

“ ‘You can build the greenest buildings in the world but if you can’t afford to live with them, that’s not sustainable,’ Dixson said. ‘You have to look at long-term maintenance also.’ ”

More tips on how to rebuild greener are here, at the Post.

Read Full Post »

Photo: David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Sean Martell uses a magnet for fishing. He may not find treasure, but he’ll find something interesting — and help clean up the river.

My ten-year-old grandson loves to fish in Rhode Island, but at home in Massachusetts, when he tries the creek near his house, he’s more likely to find a license plate than a fish. So I thought he should try magnet fishing. Just nowhere near a former military base like the one in today’s story.

David Abel writes at the Boston Globe, “On a hot July afternoon, Arthur Flynn III was on a kayak when he dropped a large magnet attached to a rope into the murk of the Nashua River.

“The 60-year-old from Ayer was floating near Fort Devens when he pulled up an unexpected catch: an MK-2 ‘pineapple’ grenade and a 60mm mortar shell. He was soon met by State Police and a local bomb squad. …

“Flynn’s haul was the result of a peculiar but increasingly popular pastime known as magnet fishing, which mixes an environmental impulse to remove trash with a zeal for seeking sunken treasure.

“But the benefits of removing a range of refuse from rivers, lakes, and other waterways comes with dangers, such as hoisting unexploded ordnance and discarded weapons, or disturbing contaminated sediment and submerged archeological artifacts.

“The idiosyncratic hobby appears to have gotten a boost from the pandemic. … Downtime with his bored 10-year-old grandson was what led Douglas Carvalho this summer to spend about $200 on ropes, carabiners, special gloves, and large magnets, including one that can lift as much as 760 pounds.

“With their new equipment and a cooler packed with snacks, the two have been going to nearby rivers and the local marina, where they attach their ropes to the powerful magnets, drop them in the water, and scour the bottom, waiting for a tug from something metallic.

“They found their new hobby was a lot like actual fishing, but with more intrigue. … They haven’t found anything as exciting as what they saw on YouTube, but they’ve brought up old railroad spikes, fishing lures, and a bolt hinge. …

“While Carvalho and other magnet anglers said they recognize the potential dangers, they insist it’s largely safe and would prefer that the state not regulate their new hobby. But after Flynn’s experience near Fort Devens, state and federal officials, along with some environmental advocates, are raising alarms and calling for regulation. …

“In a letter last month, Carol Keating, an EPA official in Boston, told the Army she was ‘extremely disappointed’ by its ‘continued noncompliance with its responsibilities, [saying] the likelihood of other unexploded munitions in the river poses ‘an imminent threat and substantial endangerment to human health or the environment.’ …

“State environmental officials said the hobby could also threaten archeological sites and removing certain artifacts from such areas may be illegal. …

“Environmental advocates said they had mixed feelings about magnet fishing, which apparently began with boaters using magnets to search the abyss for missing keys.

“ ‘While removing trash from a river is generally a good thing, in some cases, stirring up sediments to get something that’s deeply wedged in the riverbed could be harmful for the aquatic ecosystem,’ said Julia Blatt, executive director of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance. …

“For Josh Parker, who took up the hobby after his wife and kids bought him a magnet fishing kit on Father’s Day, it’s a public good. …

“ ‘It’s good-minded people cleaning up rivers,’ said Parker, 34, an animal control officer from Brockton.

“He takes his children to the Taunton and Charles rivers. Using magnets that can lift as much as 1,700 pounds, he has pulled up bicycles, shopping carts, and rusty tools. He even pulled up a portion of a safe, but it lacked any loot. … He’s earned a few dollars selling metal he has found to scrap yards, but his motives are mainly environmental, he said.

“ ‘Unlike fishing, we’re not going out looking for something to eat, or a trophy item,’ he said. ‘The main point for me is cleaning the river. It’s like picking up trash along the road.’

“For his friend, Sean Martell, there are other motives. Among them: building an online audience for his growing YouTube Channel, where he posts videos of his spoils.

“[He] took up magnet fishing after the pandemic hit — when he lost jobs repairing cooking equipment. … He gave up fishing, he said, after a sea gull flew off with a mackerel he caught. Now, he only worries about losing magnets.”

More at the Boston Globe.

Read Full Post »

Photo: pixabay
Reports the
Stanford News, “A new agreement brings together hydropower and river conservation communities to fight climate change while restoring and sustaining rivers.”

I love getting tips on blog-worthy topics. This week, Earle sent an article from the Stanford News about a truce between environmentalists and hydropower companies, a promising rapprochement. People on opposing sides of a critical issue working quietly together to find common ground.

Devon Ryan wrote, “A dialogue organized by Stanford that brought together environmental organizations, hydropower companies, investors, government agencies and universities has resulted in an important new agreement to help address climate change by advancing both the renewable energy and storage benefits of hydropower and the environmental and economic benefits of healthy rivers.”

The New York Times also covered the peacemaking. Here is Brad Plumer on the topic: “The industry that operates America’s hydroelectric dams and several environmental groups announced an unusual agreement Tuesday to work together to get more clean energy from hydropower while reducing the environmental harm from dams, in a sign that the threat of climate change is spurring both sides to rethink their decades-long battle over a large but contentious source of renewable power.

“The United States generated about 7 percent of its electricity last year from hydropower, mainly from large dams built decades ago, such as the Hoover Dam, which uses flowing water from the Colorado River to power turbines. But while these facilities don’t emit planet-warming carbon dioxide, the dams themselves have often proved ecologically devastating, choking off America’s once-wild rivers and killing fish populations.

“So, over the past 50 years, conservation groups have rallied to block any large new dams from being built, while proposals to upgrade older hydropower facilities or construct new water-powered energy-storage projects have often been bogged down in lengthy regulatory disputes over environmental safeguards. …

“In a joint statement, industry groups and environmentalists said they would collaborate on a set of specific policy measures that could help generate more renewable electricity from dams already in place, while retrofitting many of the nation’s 90,000 existing dams to be safer and less ecologically damaging.

“The two sides also said they would work together to accelerate the removal of older dams that are no longer needed, in order to improve the health of rivers. More than 1,000 dams nationwide have already been torn down in recent decades.

“The statement, the result of two years of quiet negotiations, was signed by the National Hydropower Association, an industry trade group, as well as environmental groups including American Rivers, the World Wildlife Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Another influential organization, The Nature Conservancy, listed itself as a ‘participant,’ signaling that it was not prepared to sign the full statement but would stay engaged in the ongoing dialogue over hydropower policies.

“Bob Irvin, the president of American Rivers, which has long highlighted the harm that dams cause to the nation’s waterways, said that growing concern over global warming had caused some environmentalists to reassess their longstanding opposition to hydropower. …

Mr. Irvin emphasized that his group would still oppose any effort to build new dams on rivers. But that still left plenty of room for compromise.

“As an example, he pointed to the Penobscot River in Maine, where environmentalists, energy companies and the Penobscot Indian Nation reached a landmark agreement in 2004 to upgrade several dams in the river basin while raising money to remove two other dams that had blocked fish from migrating inland for more than a century. The result: The hydropower companies on the Penobscot ended up producing at least as much clean electricity as before, while endangered Atlantic salmon have returned to the rivers. (For more on that, read an article I acquired for my former magazine, here.) …

“Said Malcolm Woolf, president of the National Hydropower Association, ‘We’re now willing to talk about removing uneconomic dams, and environmentalists are no longer talking about all hydropower being bad.’

“Energy experts have said that adding more hydropower could provide a useful tool in the fight against climate change. While wind turbines and solar panels are becoming more widespread, they don’t run all the time, and hydroelectricity can offer a backstop as utilities clean up their electrical grids. …

“ ‘We’re not talking about the Hoover Dams of old,’ said Jose Zayas, a former Energy Department official who oversaw the study. ‘There have been some big technological advances that now let us produce more energy in a much more sustainable way.’ Some companies are designing new turbines that allow fish to pass safely through, while others are looking at ways to reduce oxygen depletion in the water caused by dams.

“One particularly promising approach is to build more facilities known as pumped hydro storage, an old technology that involves connecting two reservoirs of water, one at a higher altitude than the other. When there’s surplus electricity on the grid, these facilities use that power to pump water from the lower reservoir to the higher one. When electricity is needed, such as during lulls in wind or solar power, the water flows back downhill, spinning a turbine to generate electricity.”

More at the New York Times, here. And you can read Devon Ryan’s Stanford News interview with “Dan Reicher, a former U.S. assistant secretary of energy, and board member of the conservation group American Rivers, who launched and helped lead the meetings,” here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Steve Raubenstine, Pixabay
Once considered a nuisance, beavers In England are now protected.

I remember a woman in my town who was fighting beavers that had decided to build a dam on her property. It was a big property with plenty of room, but When beavers start a project, the dead trees and grass smell awful. A year or so later, I ran into her and asked about the anti-beaver campaign. Oh, she said, I like them now. It smelled bad at first, but now there’s a beautiful lake.

Chalk one up for the lessons of Nature.

Recently the radio show Living on Earth had a segment on a similar learning process in England.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: The Eurasian beaver is native to the British Isles but was hunted to extinction some 400 years ago. But not long ago a beaver family mysteriously turned up on a river in Devon, England, prompting concerns about disease and flooding from beaver dams. Some scientists were able to persuade the UK government to allow the beavers to stay as part of a reintroduction pilot plan and recently confirmed that it’s working. Professor Richard Brazier is a hydrologist at the University of Exeter and spoke with Living on Earth’s Jenni Doering.

“JENNI DOERING: So it sounds like these beavers are here to stay. What made this trial a success?

“RICHARD BRAZIER: Yes, that’s correct. The government has allowed the animals to [not just remain] but also to expand. We learn a multitude of different things in this really intensively farmed lowland catchment setting. We learned that the beaver dams could reduce the impact of flooding downstream. We learned that the dams could filter pollutants out of the water. We learned, of course, that the animals in bringing water and creating wetlands to these otherwise dry and drained landscapes that they [bring] biodiversity back. …

“DOERING: What do you think the landscape has lost in all of those centuries of no beavers on rivers?

“BRAZIER: Well, it’s lost a very efficient water-resource manager in the beaver. And therefore, it’s lost a lot of water. And in fact, for the last few months, we have pretty dry weather conditions at this time of year. And during those times a lot of our small streams and tributaries, agricultural ditches, they just run dry. … When you lose that water, you tend to lose all the aquatic life, all the aquatic ecology, that depends upon it. So in bringing the beavers back, and now there’s [15] family groups of these animals in the River Otter, we’re seeing water coming back. … It’s an amazing thing to see because the landscape transforms even in just a few years into a wetland, wildlife rich water resourceful landscape again. …

“DOERING: How do [the rivers and streams] change?

“BRAZIER: [You know, for] hundreds of years, we’ve we’ve straightened our streams and rivers, we’ve deepened them, we’ve even dredged them. … [Beavers] start to push the water sideways back onto floodplains, they start to put meanders back into streams and rivers, they [bring back] the trees like willow, sallow, hazel. And so we get abundant vegetation flourishing again. …

DOERING: And how much have these beavers on the River Otter in the Devin area, how much have they cleaned up the water?

“BRAZIER: [Most] of the lowland streams and rivers in England [hold] a fine layer of sediment above the bed of the stream, which is soil that’s left on agricultural fields. When the beavers build dams, they capture that soil. And so immediately downstream for tens of meters, you see these beautiful clean gravels. And water flowing through those gravels is well oxygenated because it’s not full of fine sediment. Those clean gravels are so critical as spawning grounds for salmon and sea trout. …

“DOERING: So before we go, can you share your favorite fun fact about beavers?

“BRAZIER: Favorite fun fact. That’s a good one. Probably the way in which the [adult] female treats the kids [manipulating] these young sticks and shoots for the young beavers just like humans. [They] really are like a little family.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

Read Full Post »

peru_reforest

Photo: Dean’s Beans
Dean’s Beans and Peru’s Pangoa co-op offer coffee that’s carbon neutral.

I really love Dean’s Beans, and you’ve heard me talk about the company before. Not only do they have a delicious array of coffee beans from around the world and ship your order fast, but their nonprofit mission is a really big deal to them. They help the communities where they buy beans become increasingly self-sufficient, and they work to protect the environment.

An email that Dean sent out for Earth Day highlights one coffee that I buy in the French Roast decaffeinated version.

He wrote, “First, we want to extend our best wishes for health and safety to you during this time of COVID-19. Even though our beanery has (fortunately!) remained open, our new normal – masks, social distancing, split shifts, constant vigilance – is taking some getting used to. But we’re doing the best we can to take care of each other.

“Today, on the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, it is important to us that we still celebrate, and send some hope and positivity your way.

“So, let’s talk about our Carbon Neutral Coffee! You might remember this coffee better as ‘NoCO2,’ but this newly rebranded and re-named coffee is the same sweet, smooth Peruvian launched back in 2007 as the World’s First Carbon Neutral Coffee. The coffee was part of a massive reforestation program at Pangoa Cooperative in Peru. The goal? To offset all the carbon emitted throughout the entire supply chain from this coffee — from seed to cup!

“We calculated the entire carbon load from planting to drinking our Peruvian coffee, and neutralized it with native hardwood plantings. One tree planted for every 17 pounds of Peruvian coffee sold – enough to sequester 50 pounds of CO2 annually per tree! Fast forward almost 15 years — after 350,000 trees planted, this program has not only offset the entire output all Peruvian coffee sold, but all our coffees put together! We realized this unique reforestation program makes us a totally carbon negative company!

“The Pangoa Cooperative reforestation efforts don’t stop at carbon sequestration! Turns out, planting native hardwoods makes for superb migratory bird habitat. So, in 2016, we partnered with the coop and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to help Pangoa obtain official SMBC Bird-Friendly certification for their coffee (it would bring the coop an additional premium for the coffee as well!) …

“To take care of each other is to take care of the Earth. If you’ve been following us on social media, you may have seen our COVID initiatives to help bolster our community and look out for one another. Between thousands of tin ties for DIY masks, coffee donations and support for school meal programs, we’re continually looking for ways to help. We’re in this together.” More here.

A 2016 post I wrote about Dean’s Beans is here. And here’s one describing how Dean’s Beans is supporting health care for Mayan women. If you want to know more about the Peruvian reforestation efforts that provide families with some extra income while protecting the birds, check this post from 2017.

Read Full Post »

file-20191128-178107-1txjme0

Photo: Margaret Carew
In 2014, two Warlpiri women from central Australia were photographed performing a traditional dance about a child who attempts to take seed paste from a coolamon (vessel). Ancient stories can give us insight into survival and the interconnectedness of all things.

Back in early January, when I in my ignorance thought coronavirus was just a problem for China, I saved this story about indigenous people passing along ancient wisdom. I did understand then that we’re all connected in the sense that if your island is drowning, mine will, too. I also understoood that indigenous people know a lot about protecting nature. Today I’m thinking that the wisdom of the ancients might help us in ways we have yet to explore.

Meanwhile, check out this article at the Conversation. The authors are Dana Lepofsky of Simon Fraser University, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares at the University of Helsinki, and Oqwilowgwa Kim Recalma-Clutesi, contributor to the special issue on Ethnobiology Through Song.

“Since the beginning of time, music has been a way of communicating observations of and experiences about the world. For Indigenous Peoples who have lived within their traditional territories for generations, music is a repository of ecological knowledge, with songs embedding ancestors’ knowledge, teachings and wisdom. …

“Academics are just beginning to see the deep significance of these songs and the knowledge they carry and some are working with Indigenous collaborators to unlock their teachings.

“At the same time, non-Indigenous researchers and the general public are becoming aware of the historic and current loss of songs. Indigenous communities are also grappling with what this means. The loss of songs was brought on by brought on by colonization, forced enrollment in residential schools and the passing of the last of the traditionally trained knowledge holders and song keepers.

“A recent special issue of the Journal of Ethnobiology celebrates the power of traditional songs as storehouses of traditional ecological knowledge. …

“Although traditional music is threatened by past government-sanctioned actions and laws, with much already lost, Indigenous Peoples globally continue to use music in sacred and ritual contexts and celebrate their traditional songs.

“The lyrics in traditional songs are themselves imbued with meaning and history. Traditional songs often encode and model the proper, respectful way for humans, non-humans and the natural and supernatural realms to interact and intersect.

“For instance, among the Temiar singers of the Malaysian rainforest — who often receive their songs in dreams from deceased people and who believe all living beings are capable of having ‘personhood’ — dream-songs help mediate peoples’ relationships with these other beings. …

“The special issue was inspired by Kwaxsistalla Wathl’thla Clan Chief Adam Dick. Kwaxsistalla Wathl’thla was a trained Clan Chief, [the] keeper of hundreds of songs about the Kwakwaka’wakw people, their traditional territory in coastal British Columbia, and all aspects of their lives and their ritual world.

“In his role as ninogaad (culturally trained specialist), Kwaxsistalla Wathl’thla was the last culturally trained potlatch speaker. The cultural practice of potlatching is a central organizing structure of northern Northwest Coast peoples.

“Potlatching was banned until 1951. As a result, singing potlatch songs was a source of punishment and fear for many generations. The interruption of the transmission of traditional songs in every day and ritual life has been profound. …

“In 2002, he revealed an ancient ya’a (Dog Children song) that unlocked the mystery of lokiwey (clam gardens) on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Cultivating clams in clam gardens — rock walled terraces in the lower intertidal — is a widespread practice among Coastal First Nations. We now know this practice is at least 3,500 years old.

“Kwaxsistalla Wathl’thla’s sharing of this clam garden song unleashed a wave of research on traditional management practices and helped not only awaken people’s understanding of the extent to which Indigenous Peoples tended their landscapes, but also provided the foundation for research on how to improve clam management. …

“Despite the immense global value of traditional songs as libraries of ecological and other cultural knowledge, researchers and the general public have been slow to recognize their social and cultural importance.

“For instance, the findings of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), highlight the importance of protecting and honouring Indigenous languages, but songs are not explicitly mentioned.[But] in many Indigenous cultures certain dialects, words and expressions are found only in certain songs, not in spoken conversations. Thus, protecting traditional songs is a critical aspect of protecting Indigenous languages. …

“Recognizing the importance of traditional songs and creating a context to promote this knowledge is fundamental to Canada’s reconciliation process. Speaking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Traditional Knowledge Keepers Forum, Blackfoot Elder Reg Crowshoe said:

‘… We need to be aware or re-taught how to access those stories of our Elders, not only stories but songs, practices that give us those rights and privileges to access those stories.’ …

“Such knowledge, as in the case of clam gardens, may provide important lessons about how people today can more respectfully and sustainably interact with our non-human neighbours.” Hmmm. What if humans had left the endangered pangolin alone? Would we have a pandemic today?

More at the Conversation, here.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: