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Photo: Randall Hyman.
The Christian Science Monitor: “Activist Nicole Horseherder, who heads a nonprofit that seeks to protect water supplies on the reservation, stands on a ridge near Black Mesa in northern Arizona, the site of past disputes over coal mining.”

I’m grateful for the environmental leadership of indigenous people. They were environmentalists centuries before anyone used that word, and I think that paying attention to them will help us learn how to protect our planet.

Randall Hyman reports at the Christian Science Monitor about Navajo women who instinctively understand the importance of the natural world and their community’s place in it — and who don’t give up.

“One who has a master’s degree in linguistics,” Hyman says, “has made green energy a crusade on a reservation where coal, gas, and uranium have reigned supreme for decades, leaving tainted groundwater in their wake.

“Another returned to the Navajo reservation from Chicago to find that fracking had marred large sections of her native land – something she now works to stop in one of the largest methane hot spots in the United States. 

“A third was so distraught by the lack of ballot access on the reservation that she organized getting voters to the polls on horseback – her version of saddle-up democracy. 

“Two others have immersed themselves in politics directly – one as the youngest member of the Arizona State Legislature and the other as one of three women on the 24-member Navajo Nation Council. …

“Their efforts come at a particularly fraught time. Last year, from the vermilion sands bordering the Grand Canyon to the oil-rich scrublands east of Chaco Canyon, the Navajo Nation was hit by a perfect storm – a convergence of soaring pandemic deaths, dwindling energy revenues, and rising unemployment. Amid the chaos, Native women stepped up in what some see as an unprecedented wave. While one COVID-19 relief group raised $18 million in a matter of months, other women redoubled efforts to dismantle policies that have left Navajo (Diné) people vulnerable. 

“ ‘I think that you’re actually seeing a return to the way that Diné society has always been,’ says Nicole Horseherder, executive director of Tó Nizhóní Ání (Sacred Water Speaks), an organization pushing for new energy policies and water protection across the Navajo Nation. ‘Women are coming forward and saying, “I am a leader too. I can make these decisions. I can make better decisions.” ‘ …

“Underneath all the narratives is another factor – the dominant presence of women in Navajo society, where taking charge is rooted in a matrilineal culture. 

“ ‘When you see the destruction in your community, you realize you have to do something,’ says Wendy Greyeyes, assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. ‘So, women are empowered. A lot of that harks back to our own creation stories. Changing Woman was a very powerful deity who reflected thinking about the longevity of our existence, of the Diné people. This ideology is baked into our DNA as Navajo women – our need to care and nurture and protect our communities, our families.’ …

“A year ago, on a chilly December morning, Nicole Horseherder marked an explosive turning point in her long battle against coal mining. Standing on a slope overlooking the towering smokestacks of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona, Ms. Horseherder set her cellphone on livestream and gazed at the 775-foot monoliths glowing in the sunrise a mile away.

“The stacks had been a landmark of the high desert for nearly half a century, symbols of fleeting prosperity and persistent pollution. The power plant serviced major cities of the Southwest and ran the huge Colorado River pumps supplying much of their water, but was among the top 10 carbon emitters in the United States. At precisely 8:30 a.m., a thunderous rumble shattered the clear morning and clouds of smoke mushroomed as 1,500 pounds of dynamite collapsed the stacks. …

“When I caught up with her last August on the Second Mesa of the Hopi reservation deep within the encircling borders of the Navajo reservation, [Horseherder] recalled her journey’s start. Driving to an overlook, she pointed north toward distant Big Mountain. For her, it stirred painful memories. 

“Ownership of the hardscrabble land surrounding Big Mountain, called Black Mesa, had long been an unresolved intertribal treaty issue. It remained in limbo until the 1950s and ’60s, when a Utah lawyer named John Boyden persuaded a minority of Hopi litigants to take it to court.

“True to its name, Black Mesa is underlain by rich coal seams. It is also sacred to the Navajos and Hopis, many of whom opposed outsiders tapping their minerals. But the lawsuit prevailed, eventually forcing the removal of some 10,000 Navajo residents while dividing mineral rights equally between the tribes. Boyden subsequently leased land and mineral rights for Peabody coal company. A half-century of coal mining and environmental controversy ensued. 

“Ms. Horseherder’s epiphany came when she returned home from Vancouver, British Columbia, with a master’s degree in the 1990s and discovered that her dream of leading a pastoral life had turned to dust. The springs that her family’s livestock depended on had run dry. ‘My whole attention and focus shifted,’ says Ms. Horseherder. ‘It became, “How am I going to protect the place where I live – how am I going to bring the water back? And where did the water go in the first place? ” ‘

“Ms. Horseherder became a vocal activist and founded Tó Nizhóní Ání, or Sacred Water Speaks. At the time, Peabody was pumping billions of gallons of water from deep aquifers, mixing it with pulverized coal, and sending the slurry through 273 miles of pipeline to a Nevada power plant. It assured tribal officials that the technology was safe, and many supported the operation because coal mining was a pillar of the Navajo and Hopi economies for nearly 50 years, providing tax revenues and well-paying jobs. 

“But environmentalists contended that depressurizing the aquifer was lowering the water table. While Ms. Horseherder fought Peabody for years – and others lost scores of animals to stock ponds they said were tainted by slurry – the power plant and related activities were only closed when the economics of the operations no longer worked. Wells never recovered, and impacts endure to this day, critics say. ‘What we’d like to see them do first,’ she says, ‘is fully reclaim those lands that they’ve mined, and reclaim the water as well.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Mark Boss.
The Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, on the border between Arizona and Nevada, is one of the 2,400 hydroelectric plants that produce energy in the United States.

I toyed with calling this post “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends,” from a song in Oklahoma, but I didn’t think anyone besides Will would get it. I just wanted to convey the idea that when opposing sides negotiate in good faith, it’s possible to come to mutually satisfactory agreements. In the case of the energy-sector and environmental adversaries in today’s story, it took a couple of years.

Brad Plumer at the New York Times begins by saying, “The industry that operates America’s hydroelectric dams and several environmental groups announced an unusual agreement [in 2020] 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 [in 2019] 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.

“The new agreement signals a desire to de-escalate this long-running war. 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.

“ ‘The climate crisis has become a lot more acute and we recognize that we need to generate carbon-free energy whenever and wherever we can,’ Mr. Irvin said. ‘And we do see that hydropower has a role to play there.’

“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.” More at the Times, here.

Devon Ryan has an update from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, where the work of compromise took place: “Key ideas and proposals from an agreement between the hydropower industry and environmental community, facilitated through a Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment Uncommon Dialogue, have been included in the $1 trillion infrastructure package adopted by the U.S. Senate.

“President Biden signed the infrastructure bill, ‘Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,’ into law on November 15, 2021, which included over $2.3 billion for the ‘3Rs’ dam infrastructure priorities set by agreements that came out of the Uncommon Dialogue led by Dan Reicher and hosted by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

In the fall of 2020, [amid] one of the most divisive periods in American history, the hydropower and river conservation communities, traditionally at odds, reached an agreement to work together to address the nation’s more than 90,000 dams.

“The momentous agreement was the result of a two-and-a-half-year Uncommon Dialogue, an ongoing process organized by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment that brings public and private sector leaders and researchers together to develop practical solutions to pressing sustainability challenges.

“Now, key ideas from that pact and a subsequent detailed proposal are incorporated into the bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill, including $2.3 billion for the ‘3Rs’ of U.S. dams: Rehabilitation for safety, Retrofit for power and Removal for conservation.”

More at Stanford, here.

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Photo: Daniil Shvedov.
An eco-playground in the Gorkinsko-Ometyevsky Forest near Kazan.

The problem with headlines is that they tend to focus on bad stuff — a bad leader, say, planning bad moves in a country we know about only from headlines. But a leader can’t be everywhere all the time, and no country is a monolith. Especially not one as big and diverse as Russia.

Alex Ulam has a Bloomberg City Lab story about something going on way out in the semi-autonomous Russian republic of Tatarstan.

“In 2015, Natalia Fishman-Bekmambetova arrived in [Kazan] to oversee a large public works program. Then only 24 years old, she found a city with a population of 1.7 million, a renowned university, grand boulevards and major historic sites, including a Unesco-listed walled Kremlin from which Mongols once ruled.

“But Kazan also was a typical post-Soviet city — surrounded by drab concrete tower complexes and parking lots. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, little attention had been devoted to revitalizing derelict public open spaces or to building new ones.

“Six years after Fishman-Bekmambetova’s arrival, a massive initiative often referred to as a ‘green revolution‘ has dramatically reshaped this city 450 miles east of Moscow. Tatarstan’s Public Space Development Program, launched by Fishman-Bekmambetova and Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, has created or upgraded more than 420 projects throughout the republic, including parks, walkways, gardens and other kinds of landscaped areas.

“You don’t have to walk far in Kazan to see how the new public space program has changed the city. Near the center of the city is the Lake Kaban Embankments, designed by the Chinese-Russian consortium Turenscape +MAP and completed in 2017. The project transformed a formerly deserted postindustrial site around three lakes into a waterfront promenade with rows of trees, beds of wild grasses and wooden decks. At night, the area is illuminated by lights inside glowing red benches of diaphanous resin. Huge fountains rise on the lakes; restored wetlands help clean the once-heavily polluted water.

“Southeast of the city, Fishman-Bekmambetova’s team oversaw the rebirth of the 87-hectacre Gorkinsko-Ometevsky Forest, a new park that features a ski hill and an eco-playground along with preserved woodlands and performance spaces, located on a site where local activists successfully defeated the construction of medical centers and a planned road that would have bisected the park.

“The most ambitious project in the works for Fishman-Bekmambetova’s team is the Kazanska River Strategy, a plan for a 22-kilometer stretch of urban river and 68 kilometers of embankment running the entire length of Kazan; it’s one of the largest landscape projects in Russia. More at CityLab, here.

And while we’re feeling surprised about Russia, here’s a story by Fred Weir at the Christian Science Monitor about environmental action in the far north.

Arkhangelsk, a Russian region almost as big as France that borders the White Sea, is a land of permafrost and marshy tundra, with stunted Arctic forest, rolling hills, and labyrinthine lakes and rivers. It’s been inhabited by Russians for almost a thousand years; Indigenous peoples, some related to Finnish Laplanders, have been there much longer.

“People here are very conscious of history. Much of it revolves around their fragile Arctic habitat and the need to preserve it.

“About two years ago, mass popular protest forced Moscow authorities to abandon plans to build a giant waste dump near the village of Shiyes in this Arctic region that had been intended to receive 2 million tons annually of the garbage overflowing from heavy-consuming Moscow. The success of that ‘Stop Shiyes’ struggle launched a lasting ecological movement and ushered in the election of a more environment-friendly local leadership. It also planted surprisingly divergent ideas in some peoples’ minds about how to take that newfound consciousness and turn it toward a permanent transformation. ….

“For Oleg Mandrykin, a local real estate developer from the closed naval shipyard city of Severodvinsk, it served as inspiration to try and get into national politics in order to raise ecological awareness in Moscow. Anastasia Trofimova, an Arkhangelsk doctor, went a different direction, eschewing politics for [business]. And Alexandra Usacheva heads Clean North, a group that interfaces between the public and local authorities to promote ecological education.”

More at the Monitor, here.

Photo: Fred Weir.
Anastasia Trofimova, a doctor, in her shop in Arkhangelsk, Russia. She was inspired by protests against a proposed landfill to launch a business that sells around 700 products made from natural or recycled materials.

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Photo: James Rebanks via BBC.
A farmer in England shows how regenerative farming can produce better food while fighting climate change.

There’s a farmer in the UK who hopes to change the way farmers farm in order to promote biodiversity and a healthier planet. He raises sheep.

Here’s a report by William Booth at the Washington Post: “Britain’s rock-star shepherd and best-selling author, James Rebanks, is out at the family farm, giving the tour, waxing rhapsodic about his manure. The glory of it — of the crumbly, muffin-top consistency of a well-made plop from a grass-fed cow. …

“Don’t get the man started on soil health. Rebanks is a soil geek, with the zeal of the convert. … Rebanks represents one possible future for farming, which is set to be transformed in the promise of a post-Brexit, zero-carbon world. The British government plans to strip away all traditional farm subsidies and replace those payments with an alien system of ‘public money for public goods.’

“What are these public goods? Not food. Bees! In 21st-century Britain, the goods will be clean water, biodiversity, habitat restoration, hedgerows, pretty landscapes, wildflowers, flood mitigation and adaptation to climate change. …

“This transformation could be huge: Farmland is 70 percent of England’s landscape and produces 10 percent of its greenhouse gases. There is no net-zero-carbon future without farmers.

“As the best-known farmer in the whole of the United Kingdom, Rebanks finds himself at the center of this transition. In agriculture circles, he’s a super influencer, famous for his Twitter feed. He has nearly 150,000 followers, who check for his posts and postcard-perfect videos and photos of his idyllic home in England’s poetic Lake District and the doings of his beloved Herdwick sheep.

“The shepherd riffs on the circle of life, the frenzy of lambing season, the deliciousness of grilled mutton and the wisdom of sheepdogs — speckled with rants against the alleged ruinous stupidity of industrial farming ‘where the field has become the factory floor.’ …

“He cannot fathom that the planet, and his little corner of it, has been so messed up. He also cannot make up his mind whether we are doomed or just might pull through, a feeling that resonates with many.

“He wrote two books about all this, both international bestsellers. The latest, published to stellar reviews this month in the United States, is Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey.

“On one level, the book is about how cheap food culture, globalization and super-efficient, ­hyper-mechanized, highly productive modern farms (giant monocultures of beets, wheat, corn) are terrible for nature (insects, rivers, climate) and our health (obesity, diabetes) and our farmers (indebted, pesticide-dependent, stressed).

“On a deeper level, though, the pages are about healing, about how one farmer in Cumbria is trying very hard to turn his landscape into a sustainable, profitable little Eden by deploying both ancient and cutting-edge techniques. …

“British politicians make the pilgrimage to see what he has done. So do British journalists. He has made the cover of the Financial Times magazine and is the subject of a 30-minute documentary on the BBC. He pens guest columns for the right-wing Daily Mail and the left-wing Guardian. …

“The government is embarking on the biggest change in the management of its countryside since the end of World War II. No longer will farmers live on the Basic Payment Scheme. They will be paid for those new public goods; the old subsidies for ‘food security’ will end. It is a radical experiment, to be carried out on a national scale.

“Yesterday’s farms grew food and outgassed methane. The farms of tomorrow will grow food and sequester carbon. Or at least that is the idea. …

“British farmers, like their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, have subsisted for three generations on subsidies. Without the dole, government figures show, 42 percent of all farms here would operate at a loss. Most small operators wouldn’t survive without the checks. The payments — $3 billion annually — are to be phased out over the next seven years. …

“Rebanks doesn’t think the plan is nearly smart enough or big enough, or that the public understands how much it will cost to have a real impact for farmers, nature and climate. He thinks $3 billion year is ‘a drop in the bucket.’ …

“If anyone can make the switch to this new system of ‘public money for public goods,’ surely it should be Rebanks. He seems more than halfway there already. …

“His family has been shepherding in Cumbria for 600 years. His methods — moving sheep between the communal hilltop fells and the valley below — would be recognizable to the Vikings, who did the same when they settled here more than a millennium ago with a similar breed of hearty sheep.

“Over the past 10 years, with help from conservationists and supporters, he and his family — his wife and four kids — have ‘re-wiggled’ a drainage ditch and created a natural stream plus wetland. They’re planting 25,000 saplings. There were no ponds on the property before. There are 25 now, with otters. Three miles of hedgerows have been restored and 30 acres revived as a wildflower meadow. …

“He’s chopping up the farm to smaller and smaller fields — ‘it’s all hedges and edges, which is good for nature.’ He estimates he has taken 15 percent of his farm out of active production.

“ ‘Listen, the truth is there must be some letting go,’ he said. ‘You can’t drain it all and use it all for farming or grazing. You have to set some aside.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Jaime Rojo/WorldWildlife.org.
“Life here for us is very fulfilling,” says Elizete Garciada Costa Soares about the Brazilian wetland. “We have fish to eat; we have bait to sell to make money for other necessities. Even if we don’t have money for meat, we can go out on the river to fish and bring back a piranha to eat with manioc flour.”

Without actually realizing it, we’ve accepted the message over the centuries that subsistence living is undesirable. But back before capitalism, having enough for food and shelter — and something to sell if a few extras were needed — could make a pleasant life. In some parts of the world it still does.

Jill Langlois writes at World Wildlife Magazine about people who build good lives from South America’s huge wetlands.

“By the time Elizete Garciada Costa Soares wades into the deep, warm waters of the Paraguay River, the sky is usually black. The tiny crabs and bait fish called tuvira, which she captures with a metal screen, come out at night, long after the hot sun that washes over the Brazilian Pantanal has set.

“It takes Soares at least an hour to reach the best spots to fish for bait, where the tuvira and crabs hide under the thick green leaves of the water hyacinths that float on the river’s surface. She’ll be gone for at least three or four days, so she brings a tent to pitch along the riverbank. Later, she will sell the bait to other fishers, usually in the nearby town of Miranda.

“Soares is well aware of the dangers of her profession — she’s had her fair share of run-ins with jaguars and anacondas in the 26 years she’s been heading out on the river to fish. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“ ‘Life here for us is very fulfilling,’ says Soares of herself and her husband. ‘We have fish to eat; we have bait to sell to make money for other necessities. Even if we don’t have money for meat, we can go out on the river to fish and bring back a piranha to eat with manioc flour. Here, we never go hungry.’

“At just over 42 million acres, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland, created by the convergence of more than 1,200 rivers and streams rushing down from the eastern Andes and the high plateaus of the Cerrado, the vast tropical savanna to the east. More than 10 times the size of Florida’s Everglades, it stretches across the borders of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Its primary waterway is the Paraguay River, which meanders through the three countries before joining the Paraná River and flowing into Argentina.

“The Pantanal is a landscape of extremes. Acting like a giant sponge, the upper part of the basin retains floodwaters from October to March, providing natural flood protection for the millions of people who live downstream. It then slowly drains between April and September, leaving discrete pools teeming with wildlife and providing life-giving water long after the rains have gone.

“This seasonal rise and fall, the pulsing of water in and out of the surrounding landscapes, is responsible for the wetland’s significant biodiversity. Though often overshadowed by the Amazon, its neighbor to the north, the Pantanal is home to more than 4,700 plant and animal species, including fig and ipê trees, jabiru storks, capybaras, and caiman. …

“In addition to being an environmental jewel, the Pantanal is also a tremendous resource for people, says Lucy Aquino, director of WWF-Paraguay: ‘The Pantanal is one of the most important regions in the world, in terms of services provided to humanity, and one of those regions that supplies food to the world.’

“For now, the Pantanal is relatively intact, sustaining more than 270 communities — 1.5 million people — in addition to its flora and fauna, and helping to stabilize the climate throughout the region and beyond.

“But while much of the Bolivian Pantanal is protected, the overwhelming majority of the wetland, lying in Paraguay and Brazil, is not. In all, conservation areas represent just 4.6% of the Pantanal, and its headwaters in the Cerrado are at particularly high risk.

“In recent years, roads, water management systems, hydroelectric dams, large-scale mines, farms, and cattle ranches have begun to change the dynamics of the wetland, threatening the region’s integrity. In addition to poorly planned infrastructure, mining, and agricultural development, the region faces other threats, including the lack of basic sanitation and the construction of canals for navigation.

“Moreover, by the end of the century the Pantanal is expected to be much drier and hotter, with potentially devastating results, including extreme droughts and floods, and the possible shrinking of the wetland as a whole. In the absence of a holistic vision, unsustainable development threatens to limit the Pantanal’s ability to function and to adapt to climate change, putting homes and habitats at risk.

“There is a tension between communities’ needs for development — for sanitation services and clean drinking water, for example, along with roads and hydropower dams — and the costs of such development to the ecosystem and people alike. But development done right, well-designed and sustainable, would contribute to the wetland’s conservation, says Julio Cesar Sampaio da Silva, who leads WWF-Brazil’s work in the Cerrado and Pantanal. …

“ ‘Considering the Pantanal as a shared territory and developing strategies for shared management — creating a truly shared vision for the region — is fundamental to having effective conservation of these natural resources,’ he says. …

“In 2018, the three countries formally signaled their shared commitment to sustaining those resources when they signed a landmark trilateral agreement known as the Pantanal Declaration. …

“Citing the importance of the wetland to those well beyond its boundaries, WWF-Bolivia director Samuel Sangueza-Pardo calls the agreement

‘a decisive step in integrating Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay’s joint commitment to maintain this ecosystem, which is fundamental for the welfare of more than 10 million people.’ …

“For Pantanal residents like Elizete Soares, that kind of commitment provides hope for the future of the only home they know. ‘The Pantanal, for us,’ says Soares, ‘is everything.’ ”

More at the World Wildlife, here.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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