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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

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Photo: Night Media
A collaboration to plant 20 million trees started when YouTuber Mr. Beast (Jimmy Donaldson) hit 20 million subscribers.

Last year, when an ancient tree in our yard was pronounced too badly diseased to save, I felt terrible about cutting it down. After all, Planet Earth needs all the trees it can get. So I searched the web to find a good place to offset the loss. I wanted to find a highly rated nonprofit that was planting trees. I ultimately donated to the Arbor Day Foundation.

The radio show Living on Earth recently featured a story on an Arbor Day initiative that got its start on YouTube.

“YouTuber Destin Sandlin, who runs the science-based channel ‘Smarter Every Day,’ spoke with Living on Earth host Jenni Doering. …

“JENNI DOERING: On October 25, in what’s being called the largest YouTube collaboration of all time, hundreds of YouTubers from around the world came together and used their combined influence to send a message on the environment. … These YouTubers have a combined subscriber count of more than a billion people. One of the most popular YouTubers and an organizer of the event is Mr. Beast, who posted a video of himself and a team of volunteers planting trees. …

“Another YouTuber, Destin Sandlin, helped recruit fellow YouTube creators. … He joins me from Huntsville, Alabama. Destin, welcome to Living on Earth.

“DESTIN SANDLIN: Thank you so much for having me.

“DOERING: All right, so first, tell me about this collaboration — what kinds of videos are being featured?

“SANDLIN: [There are] a ton of different creators from all over the internet coming together; … people that have beauty channels, vlogging channels, we have science creators, education-type creators, people that do challenges. All these creators are coming from different places all over YouTube and the rest of the internet to work together on this one thing: We want to make an impact for good. We’re calling it Team Trees. And we’re going to support the Arbor Day Foundation and try to donate $20 million. And the Arbor Day Foundation has agreed that for every $1 that is donated to them, they will plant one tree, which is so cool.

“DOERING: How did this big, huge collaboration among different influencers and creators actually get started?

“SANDLIN: That was from the internet itself. When [Mr. Beast] passed 20 million subscribers. … Everybody on Twitter and Reddit were telling him to plant 20 million trees. And he’s like, ‘How the heck am I going to do that? That’s that’s a huge task’ But he decided to basically reach out and get help.

And so there was this little Twitter storm that happened one particular day, and everybody jumped in on it. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we could actually do this.’

“So there was this video that was created behind the scenes. It was a secret video that was invite only. You can make a video unlisted on YouTube. And this was pushed out to a bunch of different creators, and it included a lot of really big creators in it all the way up to PewDiePie, right?

“PEWDIEPIE: Of course, Mr. Beast, I am by your side. I will plant at least a couple of trees. …

“SANDLIN: Once you watch [the secret video], you’re like, ‘Holy cow. This is bigger than any one YouTube channel. This is bigger than any one genre even.’ … The viewers have the power to actually do things themselves. You know, a lot of times we think about these issues, and we’re like, ‘Oh, that’s another person’s problem.’ It’s not. It’s all of our problems. So if we can come together and literally do something, it’s an empowering message, right?

“DOERING: And you’re not competing with each other.

“SANDLIN: No, not at all, like, to succeed is for everyone to succeed, right? Because it’s the Earth, right? Like if we’re all helping the Earth, that’s like all being on the same bus and rooting for the bus driver to do well. We want the Earth to succeed. And so you know, there’s a lot of policies that, you know, we see a lot of campaigns. But what we want to do is physically and tangibly do a real thing that helps the environment. And that is putting trees in the ground. …

“DOERING: I understand that some creators have even made songs just for this occasion. Let’s listen to a clip.

“GABRIEL BROWN [singing]: ‘Is there anything better than the tree? If you ask me it ain’t that hard to see. How about 20 million, 20 million trees. Making 20 trillion little baby leaves. And I can’t help but choke up thinking about all the birds and bees.’

“SANDLIN: What we just heard is from a guy named Gabriel Brown. He’s a creator that was in the Navy. He’s a veteran. But now he makes music videos. He does all kinds of stuff on YouTube. And he decided to make a song for this movement. … Let me tell you a story. I got a tree in my Happy Meal back when I was six years old, and we planted it at my granny’s house.

“DOERING: Wait, in your Happy Meal?

“SANDLIN: Yeah, there was there was the Arbor Day that they gave away pine trees down in the south in your Happy Meal. And I went and planted my tree beside my two cousins. They had trees as well. And we still go by that house today. And we look at this tree and it’s huge. And knowing that I had a part in planting it so long ago is amazing. So I really think that planting trees is awesome, as long as you know exactly what you’re doing, make sure you you make a decision, an informed decision on what to do and how to do it and just put a tree in the ground.”

More here.

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Near the southern Sumatran village of Krui, 48-year-old Marhana climbs up the trees to harvest damar, a resin used in paints and varnishes. The trees are part of an “agroforest” that experts believe will help prevent deforestation in Indonesia.

Recent floods in Indonesia have been overshadowed by infernos in Australia, but both disasters are part of the same issue: what careless human stewardship of nature has wrought. The following article from National Public Radio (NPR) talks about an effort to help Indonesian farmers produce something more sustainable than the palm oil that causes flood-increasing deforestation and even threatens orangutan survival.

Julia Simon writes at NPR, “A few times a month, Marhana leaves the village of Krui in southern Sumatra and journeys deep into the woods. Then she finds a tree, lined with triangular holes, each hole dripping with crystalized sap. …

” ‘This is the damar,’ she says in Indonesian, as she looks at the golden droppings.

“Marhana may see damar as her way to make a living, but agriculture experts see this rare commodity as something bigger. They see damar as a sort of anti-palm oil — a model to combat deforestation and climate change. …

“In the 1800s, Dutch colonists used the sap to bind their wood boats for sea journeys. Today damar is used in varnishes, paints, and cosmetics. According to the UN, Indonesia exports tens of thousands of tons of damar and other resins each year.

“But … according to the Indonesian Palm Oil Organization, or GAPKI, Indonesia exports about 2 to 3 million tons of palm oil per month. And those palm oil exports come at a cost: large-scale deforestation of Indonesian forest, which in turn releases large amounts of climate change gases and destroys habitats for animals like endangered rhinos and orangutans. Last year, the Indonesian government stopped issuing licenses for new palm oil plantations and the European Union is now considering an import ban.

“But there’s an issue. [In September] Thomas Hertel, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, co-authored a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He argued that even if the EU ban comes to pass, and even if it successfully reduces the trade of palm oil, local farmers aren’t just going to automatically keep the forests in place. …

“Hertel says that farmers might stop planting palm oil, but they might keep cutting down forests to plant other commodities, like soy or rice. ..

“That’s where damar comes in. Back in Krui, farmer Kamas Usman says he grows damar in something called an agroforest. It may look like a regular forest, but it’s actually an intricately planned farm.

” ‘In this agroforest there are lots of varieties of trees. Durian, jengkol, lots of them,’ Usman says. The farmers plant food crops below — Southeast Asian fruits like durian and jengkol, as well as avocados or coffee. Above in the canopy are the damar trees — also called Shorea javanica — which produce the golden sap. …

“David Gilbert, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, says the agroforestry model adds value that’s key to the forest’s survival. First there’s the water benefits: Having your farm in the middle of a forest with natural watersheds and rain cycles is a win for crops’ health.

“And then there’s the business side — all these crops growing together means forest farmers like Usman and harvesters like Marhana have lots of economic incentives not to cut down their trees. …

“With damar agroforests, farmers aren’t reliant on a single product. ‘If the damar price is too low, they can concentrate on selling their coffee or their avocados, for example,’ Gilbert says, ‘So it insulates them from the shocks of these global commodity markets in a way that producing just one crop can’t provide.’ …

In the 1990s, when the palm oil industry came in and tried to persuade locals to cut down their damar trees, it didn’t work. The majority of farmers stuck with damar. Around this time, Indonesia’s forestry minister decided to formally grant the community ownership of several thousand hectares of woods.

“Now the Indonesian government is in the middle of a plan to increase Indonesia’s community-owned forest lands to 12.7 million hectares. And the Indonesian Ministry of Social Forestry is also working on community agroforestry projects on other islands besides Sumatra, including Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi.”

You may read the full article or listen to the radio story at NPR, here.

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Photo: 525 West 52nd Street
The space on top of the 525W52 building in New York features plants, lounge chairs and a view of the Hudson. Nice place to live.

Practically paralyzed by the headlines today, I think I will write about green rooftops.

That’s while I try to absorb the “news of fresh disasters” (to quote Beyond the Fringe) and figure out what one person can do. Got to remind myself that the majority of human beings are just living day to day, taking care of their families and their communities, and trying to make the world a little better instead of a lot worse.

So, green rooftops.

Kelly DiNardo writes at the New York Times, “When David Michaels moved to Chicago this year, he chose the Emme apartment building in part because of the third-floor green roof, which has a lawn, an area for grilling, fire pits and a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden.

“ ‘The green space was a huge factor in choosing this apartment,’ Mr. Michaels said. ‘My wife and I are out there every other night, grilling or relaxing. And we like that they host classes out there.’

“The Emme actually has two rooftop gardens — the one visible to residents on a deck on the third floor and a 5,000-square-foot garden on the roof of the 14-story building. Both are run by the Roof Crop, an urban farm that grows food for restaurants on a handful of roofs in Chicago. Residents at the Emme can also subscribe to regular bundles of rooftop-grown fruits and vegetables.

“As concerns about climate change and dwindling natural resources grow, green roofs have become increasingly popular. The Toronto-based organization Green Roofs for Healthy Cities estimates an increase of about 15 percent in the number of green roofs in North America since 2013.

“Replacing black asphalt and shingles with plants can lower the surrounding air temperature, filter dirty storm water and reduce a building’s energy use.

While it is difficult to calculate the savings, as utility costs vary from city to city, the National Research Council of Canada estimates a green roof can reduce air-conditioning use in a building by as much as 75 percent. …

“As understanding of the benefits grows, more cities around the world are passing green roof legislation. In 2010 Copenhagen began requiring green roofs on all new commercial buildings with a roof slope of less than 30 degrees. In 2016, the city of Córdoba in Argentina issued a bylaw that directed all rooftops — new or existing — of more than 1,300 square feet to be turned into green roofs. The same year, San Francisco began requiring that 15 to 30 percent of roof space on new buildings incorporate solar panels, green roofs or both. More recently, the New York City Council passed a suite of measures to reduce greenhouse gases, including a requirement for green roofs, solar panels or a combination of both on newly constructed buildings. …

“Toronto was the first city in North America to pass a green roof law, in 2009, requiring new buildings or additions that are greater than 21,000 square feet to cover between 20 and 60 percent of their buildings with vegetation. … Since the law was enacted, roughly 640 green roofs, covering more than five million square feet collectively, have been constructed, effectively changing Toronto’s architectural DNA and making the city a leader in the green roof movement.

“Simply put, a green roof is one that allows for the growth of vegetation, but the process is more involved than plopping down a few potted plants. Typically, a green or living roof is constructed of several layers including a waterproof membrane, a root barrier, a drainage layer, a growing medium — soil is too heavy — and plants. …

“Of course, green roofs are not entirely new.

“ ‘We’ve been using soil and plants as a roofing material for thousands of years,’ said Steven Peck, the founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. ‘The Vikings would flip their boats over and cover them in sod because it’s a great insulator. What’s new is the research the Germans have done.’ …

“In the 1970s, German horticulturists, construction companies and others began developing waterproofing technologies and researching blends of growing mediums that would be lighter than soil. In the 1980s, Germany passed a mix of local and federal laws encouraging green roof development and today the country features approximately 925,000,000 square feet of living roof.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: George Chernilevsky
A basket of wild mushrooms in Ukraine. Hunting mushrooms is a popular activity in Eastern Europe. And it’s good for the environment.

Danger, wild mushrooms! That’s what I was taught and that’s what I taught my kids and grandkids. But it’s only because the only way I know if mushrooms are edible is if they are in a supermarket bin. In places like Eastern Europe, however, identification skills are learned young.

A story from UN Environment explains why using forest products like mushrooms is important both for subsistence living and environmentally sound forest management. (Boy, how I wish I’d known all this about Bulgaria when I was in sixth grade and had to write a fancy report: there was no information anywhere.)

“Wild mushroom picking in Eastern Europe is more than a tradition. It is a social event. Every year, in late summer and early fall, thousands of people roam the woods for the biggest, most perfect specimens. They take their children along to teach them which mushrooms are edible and which are poisonous, which are ripe and which should be left for another week or so, passing on generations-old teachings and care for the woods. In the evenings, families share their harvest around a plateful of tasty, butter-fried delicacies. Together, they celebrate their love for the forests, sharing the best spots they found and recalling the animals or birds they sighted along the way.

“Forests are among the most valuable treasures on earth: they supply energy from timber, help with water regulation, soil protection and biodiversity conservation. Yet in traditional forest management, trees are still primarily viewed as a source of wood. All other products derived from wooded lands — such as honey, mushrooms, lichens, berries, medicinal and aromatic plants, as well as any other products extracted from forests for human use — are considered of secondary importance.

“Non-timber forest resources, however, have far-reaching benefits for millions of households, both in terms of subsistence and income. These by-products go into food and everyday items like cosmetics or medicines. The protection of their environment is therefore a vital need.

“Bulgaria, whose forests cover more than a third of its land area, is one of Europe’s richest biodiversity hotspots. Brown bears, lynxes and wolves can be found in its woods, which also harbour hundreds of bird species as well as a great variety of tree types, including beeches, firs, spruces and oaks.

“The country has a long tradition of forest management practices. Large-scale monitoring programmes are in place, and local communities are known to keep a close eye on the natural environment. Together, these factors have allowed national authorities to make the most of their biodiversity.

“Over 90 per cent of the annual yields of wild and cultivated herbs are sold as raw material to Germany, Italy, France and the United States, making Bulgaria one of the world’s leading suppliers in this sector. By gaining expertise in the protection and sustainable use of non-wood forest products, they have become a model for other Balkan countries. …

“Around 80 per cent of the developing world’s population use these products for health and nutritional needs, notes Anela Stavrevska-Panajotova, Project Coordinator at the Connecting Natural Values and People Foundation. The practices and skills learned from Bulgarian experts are crucial to work on identifying non-wood forest products and pilot testing in [places that have not protected their resources].

“Educating local office managers and the business sector on the sustainable use of forest resources is a cost-effective solution to address climate change. Sustainable resource use helps to improve the state of forests and habitats and, by extension, ensure economic and food security for local communities.

“In addition, forests act as carbon sinks and can remove pollutants from the atmosphere, making them a highly versatile tool to fight air pollution and mitigate climate change. Every year, they absorb one third of the carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels worldwide.” More here.

By the way, an amazing book about subsistence living, Ramp Hollow, permanently changed everything I thought I knew about history. Recommended.

 

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Rhode Island has an outstanding independent, environmental news publication called ecoRI News. Who says local news is dead?

Well, actually, it is very much endangered and requires heroic efforts by those who understand its importance. Reporting at ecoRI News, for example, played a pivotal role in the rejection of an unnecessary new fossil-fuel plant in Burrillville, after a fight that lasted years (producing hostile stickers on utility poles throughout the state). The story may have been partly about quality of life in a small Rhode Island community, but as we now know, every bit of fossil fuel threatens the whole planet.

Local news addresses other issues that have international implications. As Tim Faulkner reported at ecoRI News in April, “Plastic pollution is everywhere, showing up in the air, water, food, and consequently in our bodies.

“To draw attention to this ubiquitous waste problem, plastic-catching traps, called trash skimmers, have been installed around Narragansett Bay to collect plastic debris and other trash in the marine environment.

“The latest skimmer was recently unveiled inside the hurricane barrier on the Providence River. It’s heralded as the first trash skimmer to be installed in a state capital.

“Using a pump to draw in debris, the partially submerged plastic box catches surface trash such as floating bottles and tiny debris called microparticles. Each skimmer costs about $12,000.

“Since 2017, three trash skimmers in Newport and one in Portsmouth have collected 27,000 pounds of trash. Cigarette butts, plastic food wrappers, and foam debris are the most common items collected. The skimmers are emptied daily throughout most of the year by interns and student groups. Each contains between 20 and 200 pounds of daily trash. The skimmers have collected unusual items such as floating plastic disks from a wastewater treatment plant in East Providence.

“The project is run by Clean Ocean Access, the Middletown-based pollution advocacy group directed by David McLaughlin.

“ ‘The skimmer is the last line of defense for our oceans, and each installation allows for open, positive, and forward-thinking conversation of how to solve the local and global problem of litter and marine debris,’ McLaughlin said. …

“Plastic bags are one of the top items collected in the trash skimmers. So far, 10 Rhode Island municipalities — Barrington, Bristol, Jamestown, Middletown, New Shoreham, Newport, North Kingstown, Portsmouth, South Kingstown, and Warren — have enacted bans on plastic retail bags. East Providence, Providence, and Westerly are poised to pass bans. …

“The trash skimmer project is funded by 11th Hour Racing, a Newport-based funder of ocean stewardship initiatives. … Two skimmers are operating in Newport Harbor and a third is in the water off Fort Adams. Another is at New England Boat Works in Portsmouth. A trash skimmer is operating in Gloucester, Mass., and a new trash skimmer is scheduled to be unveiled in New Bedford Harbor during the week of Earth Day. Other skimmers are planned for Stamford, Conn., and possibly Fall River, Mass.”

More here.

Photo: Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News
The Providence trash skimmer, which helps to clear plastic waste from Rhode Island waters, is fixed to a floating dock below the riverfront deck at the Hot Club
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Photos: The Wilds
In Columbus, Ohio, you can camp overnight at the zoo.

A couple of my grandchildren brought sleeping bags on their latest visit, hoping to try camping — if not in a tent, then on the bedroom floor. A tent might be a little too exotic for where they are in life, although it worked for Suzanne when she was five weeks old.

Exotic camping makes me think of my friend Cathy. I saw her on the train the day she retired, and she told me that she was planning an overnight at the Columbus zoo. Apparently, you can sleep in a yurt. It’s not cheap. There is also a lodge or cabins, if you prefer.

The website says, “Today, it’s difficult to imagine The Wilds and its 9,000 plus acres as anything but a home to rare and endangered species from around the globe living in open range habitats.

“However, the park that has transformed wild life conservation practices was once devoted to strip mining.”

I loved reading this description of how the landscape was rescued from that devastation.

“The immense landscape of The Wilds and its mining history provides an ideal setting to study the process of ecological recovery and restoration. Ongoing biological inventories have recorded over a thousand species and provide an essential baseline for studying changes in populations over time.

“It is difficult for trees to survive on reclaimed mine land due to soil compaction and low nutrient availability. Instead, The Wilds has successfully established nearly 700 acres of prairies at The Wilds which provide beneficial pollinator and wildlife habitat.  Now we are conducting research to see how prairies change soil properties over time and whether the deep roots of prairie plants can prepare the land for the return of forests. …

“Wetlands are considered the most biologically rich ecosystems in the world.  However, development has caused these habitat types to become among the most endangered. The Wilds has restored a 20-acre area into a quality wetland refuge that supports a diversity of vegetation, waterfowl, and aquatic wildlife.  The removal of invasive species such as cattail is an ongoing effort. The ultimate goal is to increase native wetland vegetation and improve habitat for waterfowl and other aquatic wildlife. …

“Many of the reclaimed forests at The Wilds are in poor health, with low species diversity and overgrown with invasive species. The restoration department is currently working on restoring ~30 acres of forest. In order to accomplish this, invasive plant species are removed and native ones are planted in their place. Removal and replacement is a long and tedious process, but ultimately it will increase the biodiversity of the area. In addition, we intend to create native amphibian habitat by constructing two vernal pools and improving existing wetlands in the area. The end result of these combined efforts is expected to encourage more native animal and insect species to not only inhabit the area, but to thrive. …

“We have expanded our scope to improving the reclamation process immediately after mining. One essential step is seeding the land with new plant species. Traditional seed mixes used in land reclamation are not designed to create diverse habitat for wildlife, they simply aim to revegetate the land. We helped [the Ohio Department of Natural Resources] create more ecologically friendly seed mixes and monitored to see if sites planted with the native mix could revegetate the land as well as the traditional mix. Thus far, we have seen that mixes including native grasses and pollinator plants can definitely be successful, and that they undeniably increase native cover over traditional mixes. We are still working on long term monitoring of this project.”

To the conservationist side of me, this is all very impressive. But having just read a deep, thoughtful history of the destruction of Appalachia called Ramp Hollow, I can’t help but think that mining destroyed not only the environment but the ability of families to make a living off the land. I’d really like to see restoration for the people, too.

More.

Restoration Ecology

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Photo: Ocean Sole
Says Ocean Sole: “We turn flip-flops into art and functional products and in turn raise visual awareness of the problem. … We are not only creating employment for a country that has 40% unemployment, but also sending a message about how we can help our planet.”

Around the world, flip flops have provided cheap footware for billions of people. Everyone loves them. Unfortunately, they’re part of the planet’s growing plastics and synthetics problem, a tsunami of trash that damages the environment and threatens marine life.

Some years ago, the company Ocean Sole was created to do something about that and at the same time provide employment in a high-unemployment region of Africa.

As Olivia Yasukawa and Thomas Page reported at CNN in 2017, “The shores of Watamu on the Kenyan coast should be pristine. They’re not. Downstream from an ecological disaster brewing a continent away, these placid waters are bearing the brunt of a foot-born problem: your flip flops. …

” ‘Over three billion people can only afford that type of shoe,’ says Erin Smith of Ocean Sole, a conservation group and recycling collective. ‘They hang on to them, they fix them, they duct tape them, mend them and then usually discard them.’ The average lifespan of a flip flop is two years, she adds.

“They’re ubiquitous, and the modern day synthetic rubber flip flop is not going away. In fact, tons of them are washing up on the East African coast. Reports suggest that at least eight million tons of plastic enters our oceans every year.

By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the seas by weight. …

” ‘We are actually receivers of pretty much the rest of the emerging world’s marine pollution,’ [Smith] argues. And a significant quantity of the pollution which appears on East Africa’s beaches come from discarded flip flops — approximately 90 tons a year. … They’re not only an eyesore, but a direct health hazard, and with no hope of biodegrading.

” ‘Our founder Julie Church back in the 90s discovered an entire beach … was just covered in flip flops,’ Smith says. ‘What she saw were not just dead fish that had been trying to eat in their natural habitat, but turtles unable to come up on to land and actually hatch. [The pollution] started to kill the plant life, it started to kill the crabs on the sand … we have deserted beaches that used to have communities there, that used to be able to fish, and the whole ecosystem has been ruined by this massive increase in marine pollution.’

“Matilda Mathias, a debris collector from the ‘Blue Team’ in Watamu, cites the benefits to the tourist industry when the beaches are clean, and says ‘we also benefit from the money.’

“Most of the detritus is recycled, some is reused, but in the case of flip flops, they’re upcycled. Ocean Sole has trained a team of 40-or-so artisans in a workshop in Nairobi to craft sculptures from these pre-owned, unloved objects into a source of income. Importing flip flops from recycling crews along the East Coast and from as far away as Zanzibar, Smith estimates the Ocean Sole team can repurpose approximately 800,000 flip flops a year. …

“There’s little chance artisans will run out of raw material any time soon as long as our flip flop habit remains.

” ‘I think it’s time for us to start looking for an alternative shoe, or an alternative material, to fit that kind of fashion need,’ argues Smith.”

More at Ocean Sole, here, and at CNN, here.

Warthog made of recycled flip flops by Ocean Sole. Many zoo gift shops carry these products.

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