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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at Good and Fast Company.

Hat tip: Maria Popova on Twitter.

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Photo: Thomas Turner/Reuters
This hoodwinker sunfish, a species discovered only in 2017, has washed up on a California beach. Scientists believe it belongs in the Southern Hemisphere.

As much as I love learning about new species like this giant sunfish from the Southern Hemisphere, I can’t help feeling concerned that it ended up on a beach where it doesn’t belong. Is this another sign of global warming? Not likely. This fish likes temperate water and would have had to pass the hot Equator. A mystery.

Christina Zdanowicz has the story at CNN. “This is the extraordinary tale of how a massive, strange-looking fish wound up on a beach on the other side of the world from where it lives. The seven-foot fish washed up at UC Santa Barbara’s Coal Oil Point Reserve in Southern California [in February]. Researchers first thought it was a similar and more common species of sunfish — until someone posted photos on a nature site and experts weighed in. …

“It turned out to be a species never seen before in North America. It’s called the hoodwinker sunfish.

‘When the clear pictures came through, I thought there was no doubt. This is totally a hoodwinker,’ said Marianne Nyegaard, a marine scientist who discovered the species in 2017. ‘I couldn’t believe it. I nearly fell out of my chair.’

“Nyegaard … works in the marine division at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand. … ‘We know it has the temperate distribution around here and off the coast of Chile, but then how did it cross the equator and turn up by you guys?’ …

“An intern at Coal Oil Point Reserve alerted conservation specialist Jessica Nielsen to the dead beached sunfish on February 19. When Nielsen first saw it, the unusual features of the fish caught her eye.

” ‘This is certainly the most remarkable organism I have seen wash up on the beach in my four years at the reserve,’ Nielsen said in a UC Santa Barbara press release. She posted some photos of the fish on the reserve’s Facebook page. When colleague Thomas Turner saw the photos later that day, he rushed to the beach with his wife and young son. …

“He snapped some photos of what he thought was an ocean sunfish, a rare sight up-close, he said.

” ‘It’s the most unusual fish you’ve ever seen,’ said the UC Santa Barbara associate professor.

‘It has no tail. All of its teeth are fused, so it doesn’t have any teeth. It’s just got this big round opening for a mouth.’

“Turner posted his photos on iNaturalist, a site where people post photos and sightings of plants and animals. A fish biologist commented and alerted Ralph Foster, a fish scientist and the fish curator at the South Australian Museum.

“It was Foster who first said this may be a hoodwinker sunfish and not an ocean sunfish in the comments on iNaturalist. …

“Foster excitedly emailed Nyegaard, the woman who discovered the species, and told her what he was thinking. …

“It had been two days since Nielsen had first seen the fish. When Turner and Nielsen went back to the beach [to get sharper photos], the creature was no longer there.

“They started two miles apart from each other on the beach and kept looking, walking toward each other until they found the missing fish. It had refloated on the tide and washed up a few hundred yards away, Turner said. …

“All of the features in the photos matched up with the hoodwinker. When Nyegaard saw the photos, she knew she had a hoodwinker case on her hands. …

“Both Nyegaard and Turner marveled at how social media and the iNaturalist site can help bring researchers closer to an answer. …

“Turner said it was exciting for him to help identify the first recorded sighting of a hoodwinker sunfish in North America — and only the second in the Northern Hemisphere.

” ‘I’m a professor, I’m a biologist but I didn’t actually know what was special about this fish,’ Turner said. ‘I just posted a picture and that connected me with the world’s expert and the discoverer of the species.’ ”

Super photos at CNN, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More here, at the Audubon website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More here.

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Photo: Buzzfeed
Reducing our intake of meat, especially beef, can reduce global warming. Want to help me find quick non-meat recipes that work for the whole family?

Back in the 1970s, my sister gave me Frances Moore Lappé‘s Diet for a Small Planet. So even back then, I was hearing that eating meat was bad for Planet Earth. But I never gave it up completely. I had a few non-meat recipes that I liked, including a delicious Eggplant Parmesan from that book, but my commitment wavered.

Lately, there’s been a lot in the news about what the individual can do to fight global warming, and one of the most frequently mentioned ideas is to give up meat, especially beef. There are lots of reasons, including the fact that livestock gives off too much methane and requires extensive grazing land that could be better used. Also, destroying trees in the rainforest and elsewhere is like destroying the lungs of the planet.

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Photo: One Green Planet
Many environmentalists say that beef production is killing rainforests, which are the lungs of the planet in that they absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen.

Suzanne and I are giving meatless meals another shot. We’re unlikely to get as far as a true vegan diet, but we can start by serving smaller and smaller amounts of meat and larger and larger amounts of grains, nuts, fruits, eggs, veggies, and dairy products. (Dairy cows are just as flatulent as cattle raised for meat, so in California, scientists are experimenting with seaweed added to food to cut down on the methane released.)

Both Suzanne and I value prep speed. We have meat-centered meals we make quickly on autopilot. Now we need to retrain our muscle memory to make vegetarian recipes quickly.

I’ve started searching the web and would be open to ideas from readers, many of whom probably had this whole concept nailed down years ago. John’s family has an ongoing Tofu Tuesday, so I hope to get a favorite recipe from them.

BuzzFeed offers a list of 30 intriguing meals here. They’re a bit heavy on the bean component, which won’t work for me, but how do you like the one pictured at the top of the post, which BuzzFeed found at the Bojon Gourmet? It involves tofu and shiitake mushrooms roasted in a mixture of toasted sesame oil, tamari, and sriracha and transferred to a miso soup containing noodles, ginger, and kale. Mmmm.

Photo: Yale Environment 360
According to environmentalists, when humans destroy the rainforest to graze cattle, they are shooting themselves in the foot.

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