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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at the Boston Globe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chalk one up for the lessons of Nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at Living on Earth, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at the Conversation, here.

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Photo: TripAdvisor
Debra’s Natural Gourmet helps customers cut back on plastic like liquid-soap bottles. They don’t have an answer yet to takeout containers, though.

Every day I’m trying to think of ways to cut back on plastic like the good people at Plastic Free Hackney in England. How am I doing so far? Not great. Plastic is so ubiquitous. But “one and two and 50 make a million,” and there is help from like-minded businesses.

I found a dish-soap concentrate that lets me reuse bottles (etee dish soap), and now a local organic store is letting folks reuse bottles from home over and over by filling up from the store’s large dispensers.

According to Emily Holden at the Guardian, we need to cut back because recycling of plastics is not really working. No one wants them. Holden offers tips on reducing our plastics dependency.

“As plastics corporations ramp up production,” she writes, “they are also promoting a failing recycling system.

Just 9% of plastics get recycled. Traditional plastics are made from extracted oil and gas, and they contribute to the rising temperatures behind the climate crisis.

“Environment experts are increasingly calling for a reduction in plastic use, as the waste accumulates in the oceans, poor countries and even human bodies. Plastics are also burned, as China – which once accepted the bulk of America’s waste – has begun to refuse it. And more than a million Americans lived next to polluting incinerators.

“Significant reductions will require systemic change, researchers say. But there are also some easy tips for individuals who want to cut back on plastics. (If this list is overwhelming and you’re not sure where to start, collect your plastic waste for a month and conduct an audit. Cut back on what you find the most of.)

“1. Carry a reusable bottle, fork/spoon and bag …

“2. Refuse the lid on your coffee cup. … (Some coffee shops will say they are required to give you a lid, citing possible liability for burns.)

“3. Choose products in glass or cans if they are an option. Recycle those materials. … Glass and aluminum cans are much more likely to be recycled. Glass is most efficient when reused (ie. with returnable milk bottles).

“4. When possible, eat in the restaurant instead of taking it to go. Unless you have a physical disability, let your server know in advance that you won’t need a straw.

“5. If you order takeout or delivery, tell the restaurant you don’t want plastic utensils or straws. …

“6. Opt for products with less packaging. Say no to bagged lemons, apples, onions and garlic, and tea that comes in plastic packets. Choose more fresh produce for snacks to avoid individual plastic wrappers.

“7. Shop from the bulk section and use your own containers. …

“8. Use bars of soap (also available for shampoo and shaving) instead of bottles. … For an extra environmental benefit, avoid palm oil.

“9. Use a razor that requires replacing only the individual blades. … You will save money over time. Note that TSA does not allow passengers to fly with individual blades.

“10. Use a bamboo toothbrush or one with a replaceable head.

“11. Buy concentrated cleaners that can be mixed with water in a reusable container. …

“12. Choose frozen, concentrated juice that comes in cardboard tubes instead of the plastic jugs. …

“13. Don’t buy bottled water. …

“14. Buy fewer clothes, or shop secondhand. Wash your clothes less so they last longer. Hang them to dry. …

“15. When shopping online, group as many items together as possible, so you can receive fewer plastic envelopes.”

More here.

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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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