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Photo: Kendal Blust/KJZZ via Fronteras.
These eelgrass seeds are fresh from the sea.
Mexico’s indigenous Comcáac people have managed to protect 96% of the precious eelgrass that grows in their region.

I have long known about beach grass and how it can hold the dunes and protect the land in a hurricane. I know about how easily the roots die if you walk on beach grass and why, when “Keep Off the Dunes” signs aren’t obeyed, houses wash away.

But I’m learning there’s another fragile grass that helps the environment. This one lives in the sea and captures carbon.

Sam Schramski has the story at Public Radio International’s the World.

“At a two-day festival on the coast of northern Mexico [last] month, scientists, chefs and local residents gathered to celebrate eelgrass — a unique type of seagrass that grows in the Gulf of California. 

“Seagrass is on the decline in the world’s oceans, but the Indigenous Comcáac people who live in the region have managed to protect the eelgrass that grows in their waters. 

” ‘From my parents, I learned about medicinal plants and the songs of plants, as well as about traditional foods,’ said Laura Molina, who is Comcáac.

“She remembers how her mom made tortillas out of flour ground from eelgrass seeds known as xnois in Comcáac language, a mix between wild rice and nori seaweed. 

Seagrass is getting a lot of attention these days because of its capacity to store carbon, estimated to sequester up to half the so-called ‘blue carbon’ in the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems — putting it on par with global forests.

“Ángel León, a Spanish chef and owner of Aponiente restaurant, has made it his personal mission to protect threatened seagrass beds off the Spanish coast. He’s interested not only in the plant’s environmental benefits but also its culinary potential in the kitchen as a nutrient-rich superfood. …

“Seagrass is down about 30% globally since the late 1800s. Through León’s restaurant and related nongovernmental organizations, he has heavily financed seagrass restoration projects.” More at the World, here. Listen to the audio version there.

Kendal Blust at Fronteras also wrote about the festival: “In the small Comcaac village of Punta Chueca, on the Sonoran coast of the Gulf of California, a group of women gathered around a white sheet piled high with dried zostera marina, or eelgrass.

“One woman sang an ancestral song dedicated to the plant, known as hataam, as others beat the dried eelgrass and rubbed it between their palms to remove its small, green seeds. Xnois, as the seeds are known in the Comcaac language, cmiique iitom, are an ancestral food.

“ ‘The Comcaac are the only people, the only Indigenous group, that consumes the seed,’ said Erika Barnett, a Punta Chueca resident who has been heavily involved in restoration efforts.

“Eelgrass seed has been a part of their culture for millennia, she said. Traditionally, the flour was used to make tortillas and a hot drink combined with honey and sea turtle oil. And because it’s quite filling, it used to be carried by Comcaac during sea journeys. …

“Barnett said her great-grandparents were probably the last members of her family to collect and eat the xnois seeds. Her father, now 76, last tasted it when he was just 7.

” ‘That’s was the last time he ate it,’ she said. ‘It’s very ancient, but it’s no longer eaten like it used to be, and most younger people have never tasted it. So this effort is really rescuing our culture.’ …

“Now, Barnett is part of a team working to bring the tradition back to their community — both because of the plant’s nutritional value and its ecological benefits. Eelgrass creates habitat for sea turtles and fish, protects the coastline and captures carbon.

“ ‘It’s important for us to revive these traditions so they can be passed on to future generations,’ she said. ‘But I think we need to show the community that it can be done, first. That it’s hard, but we can harvest the seeds.’

“So for weeks in April, a group of women and girls harvested eelgrass the way their ancestors would have. They waded into the sea to collect plants floating near the shore, then dried, thrashed and winnowed them. …

“ ‘One of the missions of Aponiente is to look to the sea with hunger,’ said Greg Martinez, a chef and biologist. … Martinez said the restaurant is committed to discovering the gastronomic potential in the ocean, both for our health and for the planet.

“And eelgrass has a lot of potential. For one thing, it captures and holds carbon below the water’s surface. Known as blue carbon, it can help mitigate climate change.

“ ‘But it doesn’t only sequester carbon,’ Martinez said. ‘It also protects coastlines. It serves as a habitat for thousands of different species that come to breed in their protection. It buffers waves so if you have a tsunami or another storm it protects the coastline in that way as well.’

“Despite the swath of ecosystem services seagrasses provide, however, seagrass beds currently are disappearing from the world’s oceans, he said. And that makes it especially important to protect the abundant meadows in the Canal del Infiernillo, a channel between the coast and the massive Tiburon Island that is entirely within Comcaac territory.”

More at Fronteras, here. Nice pictures. Both news sites are free of firewalls.

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Photo: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian.
Camryn Stewart, 14, and Naomi Bell (right) open the salmon season on Scotland’s River Dee with the first casts.

So many good people trying to make the world better! Each one has their own area of action. It may be health, sports for kids, peace, housing, justice, the environment, art, teaching school. You name it. Today’s story is on people doing something about the effects of global warming where they live — along Scotland’s rivers.

Severin Carrell reports at the Guardian that “millions of trees are being planted beside Scotland’s remotest rivers and streams to protect wild salmon from the worst effects of climate heating.

“Fisheries scientists have found rivers and burns in the Highlands and uplands are already too warm in summer for wild Atlantic salmon as they head upstream to spawn, increasing the threat to the species’ survival.

“Fisheries on the River Dee in Aberdeenshire, one of the country’s most famous salmon fishing rivers, have planted 250,000 saplings along key tributaries. They plan to plant a million in the Dee’s catchment by 2035. …

“In 2018, the year Scotland recorded the lowest rod catch for salmon since records began, climatic changes meant water temperatures in 70% of salmon rivers were too warm for at least one day that summer. They exceeded 23C [73.4 Fahrenheit], a temperature that induces stress and behavioural change. …

“Marine Scotland scientists found that only 35% of Scotland’s rivers, which stretch for 64,000 miles (103,000km), have adequate tree cover.

“Lorraine Hawkins, the river director for the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, a statutory body, said: ‘These rivers and burns are the nursery grounds for young fish and it’s the young fish which will be affected by summer temperatures – their feeding and growth rates are affected. If it gets hotter, we will see fish dying.’

“Fishery boards across Scotland have similar tree-planting programs, to provide essential shade to lower water temperatures. Many will be fenced off to prevent the saplings from being eaten by deer. Hawkins said these projects improved the overall health and biodiversity of rivers across the uplands, increasing insect life, leaf fall, managing essential nutrients and flood control.

“Alan Wells, the director of Fisheries Management Scotland, an industry body, said climate forecasts were clear that water temperatures would continue to climb, even if governments succeed in limiting climate heating. …

“He said, ‘This will get worse. We need to grow trees now to create that cooling shade.’

“The dramatic decline in wild salmon numbers is blamed on numerous factors: climate change affecting food availability; weirs and other obstructions in rivers; predation by soaring seal populations; sea lice attracted by fish farms; bycatch by trawlers at sea and poor river quality. Wells said that while Scottish ministers were proposing new conservation strategies, he remained frustrated with the slow pace of change.

“The Dee marked the start of its angling season [in February] by inviting two female anglers who won a fundraising competition last year to make the first cast, an annual ceremony at Banchory. …

“Camryn Stewart, 14, one of the first cast fishers, said she had been brought up fishing by her parents, Deirdre and Jim. The sport is targeting women and children as it strives to expand its participation and appeal. …

“ ‘I have been surrounded by people who fish, and I’ve wanted to fish all my life,’ she said. ‘We need more people fishing. … We gain so much from it. Just being outside and being in the wild. Even if you don’t catch anything, you come back from the day fulfilled.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Dougie Barnett/NatureScot.
Flanders Moss in Scotland has seen the return of key bog plants such as sphagnum (peat moss) and cottongrass — so important now that we know bogs can store the carbon we don’t want in the atmosphere.

My father-in-law sold peat moss, among other agricultural products, for his entire career. He usually got the peat from Canada, although other people source it from places like Germany and Ireland. In Moat, Ireland, our friend James Hackett relied on peat for warming the house. (Burning it was not the best thing for his health.)

Today’s story is about Scotland’s heightened focus on protecting peat bogs so they can store carbon and fight global warming.

Phoebe Weston reports at the Guardian, “Flanders Moss bog is slumped on the flat, farmed landscape of the Carse of Stirling in Scotland like a jelly fungi. It wobbles when you walk on it, and a metal pole goes down eight metres before reaching hard ground. This lowland-raised bog is a dome of peat fed mainly by rainfall and it acts like a single organism – the whole thing has to be looked after for any part to be in really good shape. If it is drained in one area it will affect the water level across the entire bog.

“For much of human history peat bogs have been thought of as wastelands. This 860-hectare [~2,200 acres] site has been hacked away and drained since the early 1800s to make space for fertile farmland below. …

“It is now recognized that peat bogs are among the greatest stores of carbon and, after decades of restoration, the holes in the peat at Flanders Moss have been patched up. Areas that used to be purple with heather are turning green as key bog plants such as sphagnum (peat moss) and cottongrass come back. The bog rises out of the land like a sponge and ‘breathes’ as changes in the weather and water level cause it to swell and contract.

“Researchers in Scotland are tracking ‘bog breathing’ using the latest satellite technology that can detect just a few millimetres of change. … Thanks to the restoration work, the water table has risen [and] is now at the surface. As the bog draws in water from the surrounding land, it helps manage flood risk. Flanders Moss bog has removed [about 2,200 acres] from the Forth catchment, reducing flooding downstream. …

“The Scottish government-funded Peatland Action project, which started in 2012, is helping revive 25,000 hectares [~61,776 acres] of degraded peatland. In 2020, the Scottish government committed [about $300 million] over 10 years to bog restoration in a bid to lock carbon in the land. …

“It takes about a month to process the satellite data for a third of Scotland, which is available through the Copernicus Open Access Hub. The technology is still in development but is likely to be cheaper than ground-based mapping. …

“Despite these restoration efforts, Flanders Moss is still a net emitter of carbon. … Stopping these emissions and preventing further degradation are the primary objectives of the restoration project.

“Bogs work on a different timeframe than humans. They form slowly … taking up to 1,000 years to grow one metre. But [David Pickett, who manages the site with his National Nature Reserve] team has jump-started recovery. ‘We’ve done most of the big work here,’ he says. ‘Now, it’s a question of waiting. The process of fixing this site will last 100 years, and the benefits of work being done now will only be seen by the next generation.’

“It’s easy to see why bogs weren’t popular. They are stores of partly decayed organic matter, which are too acidic and devoid of nutrients to support healthy trees. But this bog is colorful and has a fresh, earthy smell. As well as being a fantastic store of carbon, this ancient, watery land – healthy peat is about 90% water – is also rich in wildlife, including rare lizards, dragonflies and even snakes.

“ ‘There isn’t headline sexy stuff like puffins and seals but you go around the boardwalk and it’s a fantastic place,’ says Pickett. ‘I always used to think bogs must have been named on a Friday after a really bad week. We’re trying to change the perception of bogs but it’s a hard sell.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Biosphere2.
Biospheres in Arizona gather ancient wisdom to aid future generations.

Now that we know human activity is the main reason for dangerous global warming, it’s time to turn to indigenous tribes and learn to step more lightly on Plant Earth. That’s the thinking behind a biosphere project in Arizona.

Samuel Gilbert reports at the Washington Post, “Indigenous peoples have known for millennia to plant under the shade of the mesquite and paloverde trees that mark the Sonoran Desert [in Arizona], shielding their crops from the intense sun and reducing the amount of water needed.

“The modern-day version of this can be seen in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, where a canopy of elevated solar panels helps to protect rows of squash, tomatoes and onions. Even on a November afternoon, with the temperature climbing into the 80s, the air under the panels stays comfortably cool.

“Such adaptation is central to the research underway at Biosphere 2, a unique center affiliated with the University of Arizona that’s part of a movement aimed at reimagining and remaking agriculture in a warming world. In the Southwest, projects are looking to plants and farming practices that Native Americans have long used as potential solutions to growing worries over future food supplies. At the same time, they are seeking to build energy resilience.

“Learning from and incorporating Indigenous knowledge is important, believes Greg Barron-Gafford, a professor who studies the intersection of plant biology and environmental and human factors. But instead of relying on tree shade, ‘we’re underneath an energy producer that’s not competing for water.’

“On both sides of the Arizona border with Mexico, scientists are planting experimental gardens and pushing the potential of an ‘agrivoltaic’ approach. Thirsty crops such as fruits, nuts and leafy greens — which require elaborate irrigation systems that have pulled vast quantities of water from underground aquifers and the Colorado and other rivers — are nowhere to be found. …

“Southern Arizona is an epicenter of the movement not just because of the intense environmental pressures that the region faces but because of the presence of the Tohono O’odham Nation southwest of Tucson.

“The Tohono O’odham have farmed in the Sonoran Desert for several thousand years. Like many Indigenous groups, they now are on the front lines of climate change, with food security a paramount concern. Their expansive reservation, nearly the size of Connecticut, has just a few grocery stores. It is a food desert in a desert where conditions are only getting more extreme.

“Since the early 1970s, a group of Nation members have run the San Xavier Cooperative Farm and grown ‘traditional desert cultivars’ in accordance with their ancestral values — particularly respect for land, water and plants.

“Sterling Johnson, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, has worked for the past decade to share that expertise broadly. His partner, Nina Sajovec, directs the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture, a Native American-governed food justice organization that several years ago founded its own seed bank and already has distributed over 10,000 seeds to farmers.

“ ‘We’re all about using what is out there,’ Sajovec said. Among the center’s heirloom varieties: 60-day corn, a fast-maturing desert-adapted vegetable, and the tepary bean, a high-protein legume particularly suited to the climate because of leaves that can fold to withstand direct sunlight during the peak of summer.

“Johnson captures precipitation during the Arizona monsoon season to sustain crops on his field in the desert lowlands. ‘It’s using the rainwater,’ he explained, ‘using the contour lines, using your environment and nature to grow food.’ …

“Perhaps even more daunting than the rising temperatures of climate change are the water shortages that many parts of the world will confront. In Tucson, the Santa Cruz River is now dry because of too much diversion and burgeoning demand, according to Brad Lancaster, an expert on rainwater harvesting.

“ ‘The majority of the water that irrigates landscapes and Tucson and Arizona is not local water’ but tapped from the Colorado River, Lancaster said. Unless severe drought conditions reverse and the river level improves, mandatory federal cutbacks mean farmers will lose a significant amount of that critical resource starting next year.

“ ‘The goal is how can we use rainwater and storm water, passively captured, to be the primary irrigator,’ said Lancaster, who lives in a local neighborhood that has been transformed through passive water harvesting into an ‘urban forest,’ with wild edible plants such as chiltepin pepper and desert hackberry lining the sidewalks.

“He is planning a similar system at Tumamoc Resilience Gardens, using basins and earthen structures to spread water across the landscape and reduce channelized flows. Nabhan, who also is involved in the site’s design, sees it as replicable and, more importantly, scalable. …

“ ‘We’ve had 5,000 years of farmers trying out different strategies for dealing with heat, drought and water scarcity,’ said [Gary Nabhan, an ethnobotanist and agrarian activist who focuses on plants and cultures of the Southwest], walking around his own creation at his home in Patagonia, a small town about 18 miles north of the Mexico border. The fenced space holds 40 species of agave, three species of sotol, prickly pear and other varieties of cactuses and succulents.

“ ‘The key concept,’ he said, ‘is that we’re trying to fit the crops to the environment rather than remaking the environment.’ ”

More at the Post, here. Lots of great photos.

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Photo: Aaron Ufumeli/EPA.
Author Tsitsi Dangarembga has joined the Future Library, offering a work that won’t be read for 100 years. 

There are many ways artists can highlight how global warming is hurting the planet. Katie Paterson, for example, once created an installation that allowed people to listen in on the sound of glaciers melting. Now she has come up with the idea of a Future Library in hopes that it will still exist in 100 years so that people can read the works of the celebrated authors who have joined the project.

Alison Flood reports on one such author at the Guardian. “Tsitsi Dangarembga made the Booker shortlist for her most recent novel, This Mournable Body, the story of a girl trying to make a life in post-colonial Zimbabwe which was praised as ‘magnificent’ and ‘sublime.’ Her next work, however, is likely to receive fewer accolades: it will not be revealed to the world until 2114.

“The Zimbabwean writer is the eighth author selected for the Future Library project, an organic artwork dreamed up by the Scottish artist Katie Paterson. It began in 2014 with the planting of 1,000 Norwegian spruces in a patch of forest outside Oslo. Paterson is asking one writer a year to contribute a manuscript to the project – ‘the length of the piece is entirely for the author to decide’ – with Margaret Atwood, Ocean Vuong and Karl Ove Knausgård already signed up. The works, unseen by anyone but the writers themselves, will be kept in a room lined with wood from the forest in the Deichman library in Oslo. One hundred years after Future Library was launched, in 2114, the trees will be felled, and the manuscripts printed for the first time.

“The artwork ‘perfectly expresses my yearning for a human culture that centres the earth’s sustainability,’ said Dangarembga. ‘I share with many other dwellers of our beautiful planet a deep sense of concern for our home’s wellbeing.’ …

“The author, whose acclaimed debut Nervous Conditions (1988) was the first novel written in English by a black woman from Zimbabwe, said she was already “settling on the story” she would tell. She was not worried about the fact that she will never know how her writing is received.

‘I’m always my first audience. … A lot of my life has been writing into the void. So I’m used to writing into the void.’

“Paterson said that Future Library was ‘honoured’ to include Dangarembga. … ‘Tsitsi Dangarembga’s words have shaped the world. Praised for her ability to capture and communicate vital truths, the Zimbabwean novelist is admired worldwide as a voice of hope,’ said Paterson. ‘She examines oppression, discrimination, and systemic racism, through writing that is brave and unforgettable.’ …

” ‘I don’t think of myself in those terms,’ Dangarembga said. ‘So it’s really a great honour, I’m very pleased about it.’

Nervous Conditions, to which This Mournable Body is a sequel, was named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that shaped the world. Currently in Harare, the Zimbabwean author is working on a piece of non-fiction, and a speculative young adult novel. She is also awaiting a trial date after she was arrested during anti-corruption protests in Harare last year, and charged with intention to incite public violence. Authors and free speech organisations have called for the charges to be dropped, describing them as an outrage.”

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: Giorgia Polizzi.
Novelist Margaret Atwood with artist Katie Paterson at the inauguration of the Future Library forest in Norway. 

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Photo: Otherlab via the Smithsonian.
Saul Griffith’s latest venture, Otherlab, is a research company reminiscent of the “invention factory” created by Thomas Edison.

Here’s an Australian inventor who aims to stop global warming. I especially like his ideas about a substitute for lithium batteries — not just because it could save money but because lithium and other rare minerals are the new “blood diamonds.” Mining them is bad for Nature, bad for communities.

Rachel Pannett writes at the Washington Post, “During a TED talk, Australian inventor Saul Griffith wanted to show his audience how much a person’s individual choices can affect the planet.

“The person, in this case, was himself. And so, the tall engineer with tousled brown hair pulled up a chart on a big screen behind him on the stage.

“On display was an exhaustive audit of his personal energy impact, calculating the carbon footprint of every action in his life down to his underwear, toilet paper and taxes.

“The founder of a wind power company and a dedicated bicycle commuter, Griffith was ashamed to discover that he was consuming much more power than the average American. In short, a planet hypocrite, he told his audience. …

“Since that TED talk 10 years ago, Griffith’s San Francisco lab has attracted $100 million in capital from investors and spun out a dozen companies.

“The 47-year-old, who won a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant in 2007 for his prodigious inventions ‘in the global public interest,’ from novel household water-treatment systems to an educational cartoon series for kids, has spent the past decade working to solve climate change through technology. His solution: mass electrification.

“While most environmentalists have taken aim at the fossil fuel industry, Griffith wants to decarbonize each American household — replacing every gas cooktop, furnace and hot water heater with electric devices. Otherwise, he says, efforts to reach net-zero carbon emissions will fall short.

“Most of Griffith’s tinkering happens in a nearly century-old former factory in San Francisco’s Mission District. … From every available space on the ceiling and walls, Griffith’s team has hung bicycles — from cargo bikes to a four-seater electric model.

“Otherlab, which Griffith co-founded more than a decade ago, is where the Australian and two dozen other scientists are trying to find a way to stop global warming.

“One of the lab’s current projects aims to radically redesign offshore wind platforms. Another team is designing a solar-powered scooter set for launch this year. They also designed a tracker system that helps solar panels follow the sun’s path through the day.

“ ‘Things don’t stay on paper very long,’ said Joanne Huang, Otherlab’s special projects lead, who joined the company in 2019. ‘It is like a build-it-and-see kind of place. It’s very fun in that way.’ …

Griffith believes climate change is solvable, and he imagines a cleaner future that looks better than what we have now. …’There is every reason to believe the future can be awesome.’

“In the first-floor workshop, Huang and Hans von Clemm, an engineer, were recently working on modular cubes designed to stack neatly in the corner of a person’s garage to store excess energy from rooftop solar systems. The heating and storage systems are being tested in several homes in California, including Huang’s. Their hope is to store electricity from rooftop solar panels for far less than the cost of a lithium battery — making the technology accessible to more people. …

“For the task, Griffith has assembled an eclectic team. Von Clemm is a former ski instructor; Huang was a competitive snowboarder.

“Von Clemm, who joined Otherlab as an intern in 2016, remembers the day he interviewed for the job. Griffith asked to see his hands, which were calloused and covered in cuts. The week before, von Clemm had been building a knife drawer for his mom. ‘All right,’ Griffith said approvingly.

“He then handed the young engineering student a piece of paper and a pen and asked him to draw a working bicycle in 60 seconds. Von Clemm said his hands were shaking. When he finished, Griffith declared: ‘Okay, you can start tomorrow.’

“Griffith’s vision for addressing the devastating impact of climate change bucks tradition. Instead of just focusing on shutting down coal and gas-fired power plants and polluting industries and switching to renewable power generators, he wants to also focus on suburban life. … There is little use in having wind or solar power if your stovetop, furnace and water heater are powered by gas.

“Griffith acknowledges this could be a tough task — furnaces are not easy to swap out like appliances such as refrigerators: Typically, you replace them only when they are broken. …

“ ‘We need a Cambrian explosion of local experiments of how to locally solve the problem,’ said Griffith, whose book, “Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future,” will be published in October.”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Photographic/Scenic Ireland/Alamy via the Guardian.
Burning peat increases global warming, which is why commercial operations are closing, but undisturbed bogs have always been great for keeping carbon
from the atmosphere.

My father-in-law was in the peat moss business back in the day. The Philadelphia company he worked for and later ran was called I.H. Nestor. It sold peat mostly for agriculture, but you may know that peat was also burned for heat, especially in Ireland. My friend, the late great James Hackett, and his family always heated their home with peat, with unfortunate consequences for their health.

Today’s story is about the historical value of peat bogs, an aspect that has been mostly unrecognized until now.

Chris Mooney writes at the Washington Post, “Long before the era of fossil fuels, humans may have triggered a massive but mysterious ‘carbon bomb’ lurking beneath the Earth’s surface, a new scientific study suggests. If the finding is correct, it would mean that we have been neglecting a major human contribution to global warming — one whose legacy continues.

“The researchers, from France’s Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences and several other institutions across the globe, suggest that beginning well before the industrial era, the mass conversion of carbon-rich peatlands for agriculture could have added over 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of more than seven years of current emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy.

“ ‘Globally [peatlands] are only 3 percent of the land surface but store about 30 percent of the global soil carbon,’ said Chunjing Qiu, a researcher at the laboratory, a joint institution supported by French government research bodies and the Versailles Saint-Quentin University, and the first author of the study published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

“The new finding of an ‘ignored historical land use emission’ suggests that even now, we lack a complete understanding of how the Earth’s land surfaces are driving and modulating the warming of the planet. … Scientists have long worried about the potential for massive amounts of carbon being released by northern permafrost, where ancient plant remains lie in a kind of suspended animation beneath the surface. But the peat threat is very similar; in fact, peatlands overlap considerably with permafrost regions.

“Peatlands are a particular type of wetland, one in which dead plant matter does not fully decay due to the watery conditions, and thus accumulates.

In its normal state, peat slowly pulls carbon out of the atmosphere — unless you disturb it.

“If a peatland is drained — as has occurred for many centuries to promote agriculture, especially the planting of crops — the ancient plant matter begins to decompose, and the carbon it contains joins with oxygen from the atmosphere. It is then emitted as carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse warming gas. …

“To try to get around the problem of missing historical records, the new study simulates the Northern Hemisphere (outside of the tropics) over thousands of years to determine where peat would have likely developed. Over time, the computer model will begin to include growing agricultural activities. It can then be used to analyze different scenarios for how frequently such developments may have occurred on peatland.

“In a middle-of-the-road scenario, where humans would have regularly grown crops on peatlands, the study finds that some 70 billion tons of carbon (over 250 billion tons when converted to carbon dioxide) would have been lost from the soil.

“Importantly, the analysis does not cover all the peatlands across the globe: It only considers Northern Hemisphere peatlands from the year 850 CE onward. Massive losses of tropical peat are even now occurring in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, for instance, so global losses will be higher. …

“The study is ‘a broad modeling approach with many assumptions, which can all be individually questioned and debated,’ added Hans Joosten, who leads a peat research group at the University of Greifswald in Germany. ‘But the overall message that remains is that drainage of only a small part turns the entire northern peatland resource into a net carbon source.

‘Though peatlands indeed are carbon sinks in their pristine state, they should also be seen as carbon bombs, which explode whenever they are damaged. Keep them wet!’ …

“The new work underscores that major gaps remain in how much we know about the human contribution to climate change, even as we are trying to halt it. With poor understanding about peat locations, and poor reporting about land conversion, experts say, many countries can’t fully account for peat emissions even now. That could raise questions about what has been happening in their land-use sector.”

More at the Post, 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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Photos: Sea Forest
Asparagopsis is a species of Red Algae that can fight global warming. When eaten by cows, it releases bromoform, which reduces methane production and limits how much CO2 goes into the atmosphere.

It isn’t hard for me to give up eating beef — but milk? For one thing, my doctor wants me to drink it. I do know that cows and other livestock are not helping with our global-warming problem, and that’s a worry. Here’s something that could help.

Tatiana Schlossberg writes at the Washington Post, “One of the most powerful weapons in the fight against climate change is washing up on shorelines around the world, unnoticed by most beachgoers. It’s seaweed. Specifically, Asparagopsis taxiformis and Asparagopsis armata — two species of a crimson submarine grass that drifts on waves and tides all around the world’s oceans.

“It doesn’t seem like much, but it could practically neutralize one of the most stubborn sources of a powerful greenhouse gas: methane emissions from the digestive processes of some livestock, including the planet’s 1.5 billion cows, which emit methane in their burps.

“Reducing methane from livestock, and cows in particular, has long been a goal of scientists and policymakers but is especially tricky: How do you change a fundamental fact of animal biology in an ethical way that doesn’t affect milk or meat?

“In lab tests and field trials, adding a small proportion of this seaweed to a cow’s daily feed — about 0.2 of a percent of the total feed intake in a recent study — can reduce the amount of methane by 98 percent. That’s a stunning drop when most existing solutions cut methane by about 20 or 30 percent.

“Meanwhile, growing seaweed used for the feed supplement could also help sequester carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, and reduce ocean acidification, because the plant sucks up carbon in the water as food.

“Rob Kinley, the scientist who identified asparagopsis as a methane inhibitor, said it might just be the most promising way to eliminate methane emissions from livestock in the next decade.

“That’s significant because livestock overall account for about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with nearly 40 percent of that linked to methane from the digestive process, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. …

“In a study published in 2016, Kinley and his co-authors found that asparagopsis virtually eliminated methane emissions in lab trials. When a cow eats grass or other fibrous plants, microbes inside its rumen, or first stomach, use carbon and hydrogen from the fermentation of those plants to produce methane, which escapes from the cow mainly through burping, although about 5 percent is released through flatulence.

“Asparagopsis and other types of seaweed have specialized gland cells that make and store bromoform, an organic compound. When the blurry red seaweed is freeze-dried, powdered and sprinkled as a garnish on a cow’s meal, bromoform blocks carbon and hydrogen atoms from forming methane in the stomach.

“In response, the cow makes more propionate, a fatty acid that helps produce glucose in the metabolic process, allowing the animal to more efficiently grow or to produce more milk. That may enable farmers to use less feed and save money. …

“Some evidence suggests that herders in ancient Greece fed their cows seaweed, as did many in 18th century Iceland. The most recent effort began when

Joe Dorgan, a farmer on Prince Edward Island in Canada, observed that his cows that grazed on seaweed that rolled up on beaches had better pregnancy success, produced more milk and suffered less from mastitis than cows that didn’t eat seaweed.

“Before Dorgan could sell the seaweed to other farmers, the Canadian government required proof that it was safe, said Kinley, who was then at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and was hired by Dorgan. …

“Dorgan’s seaweed reduced methane by about 18 percent, [but, he says,] ‘The light came on for me that there’s probably a seaweed in the world that’s better than that.’ …

“A number of companies have been working to make asparagopsis taxiformis and asparagopsis armata into commercial products that can be added to animal feed. … While their approaches differ, they share an urgency in getting asparagopsis to farmers, something they recognize is not easy. It’s a challenge to figure out how to grow and process asparagopsis at scale and in a way that will translate into higher earnings for farmers.”

At the Washington Post, here, you can read about four companies that are working on this.

Cows by the sea.

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Photo: Shahzad Qureshi
Shahzad Qureshi, founder of Urban Forest, in Karachi, Pakistan.

Today most people have come to realize the importance of trees for everything from reducing global warming to improving life in neighborhoods. The Amazon rain forest (currently in grave danger from Brazil’s government) is known to cool the planet by soaking up carbon in the atmosphere, and urban forests give city residents a chance to cool off — and calm down.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy, but around the world, more people are feeling they better do something themselves to protect trees.

Anna Kusmer reports at PRI’s The World, “Extreme heat often hovers over Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, creating insufferable conditions for its 16 million inhabitants. But each time Karachi resident Shahzad Qureshi transforms a barren patch of land into a dense, urban forest, he helps his city adapt to extreme urban heat that has become inevitable under climate change. Over the last four years, Qureshi’s organization, Urban Forest, has planted 14 urban forests in parks, schools, people’s yards and outside of a mosque.

“Qureshi’s quest to plant urban forests started in 2015, when temperatures reached over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Karachi. About 2,000 people in the region died from dehydration and heatstroke. It was devastating.

‘It was just too hot,’ Qureshi said. …’ And one of the things everybody was talking about is that there’s not enough green cover.’

“Around that time, Qureshi saw a TED Talk that changed his life. He listened to a man named Shubhendu Sharma sharing a method to quickly grow dense urban forests. Qureshi was amazed. …

“Qureshi decided to learn Sharma’s technique and bring it to Karachi, joining a growing global community of urban foresters who want to help their cities adapt to extreme urban heat events created by rapid climate change. …

“Sharma’s organization Afforestt has now helped plant 150 mini-forests in 13 countries.

“ ‘So, there is a quite strong global community right now,’ Sharma said. ‘I am very keen on taking this method to every single country of the world.’

“Sharma’s special technique is known as the Miyawaki method. It involves the close placement of a variety of trees with different growing speeds and light requirements to prevent competition for the same resources. The approach specifically uses native species, allowing trees to thrive in their original climates and environments while supporting native bird and insect populations.

“ ‘Most of the city is roads and buildings and built-up urban area,’ said Nadeem Mirbahar, an ecologist with the Swiss International Union for Conservation of Nature Commission (IUCN) on Ecosystem Management, based in Karachi. His organization did a survey and found that only 7% of Karachi had green cover.

“This contributes to an ‘urban heat island’ effect, Mirbahar said. The phenomenon causes cities to be significantly hotter than the surrounding countryside. He thinks Karachi should strive for at least 25% green cover to avoid catastrophic heat events in the future.

“Qureshi’s oldest urban forest is four years old and already has towering, 35-foot-tall Acacia trees full of big, thorny branches and birds’ nests.

“ ‘I have seen bird species in this park, which I have not seen in my life,’ he said. ‘It’s a habitat for them.’ …

“Policymakers in Pakistan have started to look at planting trees as a solution to the urban heat threat, said Umer Akhlaq Malik, a policy analyst at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Pakistan.

“In 2016, the government launched a plan to plant hundreds of millions of trees as part of a project called ‘the Billion Tree Tsunami,’ in response to the fact that the country had fallen to a mere 2% forest cover.

“Malik said … ‘To take it to scale, you need more practitioners who invest their time and energy into this.’

“Malik said the biggest barriers are cost and space. Each forest can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish.

“But Qureshi remains hopeful that the project can scale up. He is working with the UNDP to form a coalition that aims to bring urban forests to every park in the city. He thinks Karachi could look fundamentally different.”

More at PRI, here.

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Art: Diana Beltrán Herrera
The artist makes birds and other wildlife from paper and in recent years has started to use her art to support nonprofits fighting for the environment.

Although it is not new for artists to celebrate nature — a compulsion dating at least to prehistoric cave paintings — there’s a new sense of urgency in the era of global warming.

In a 2018 article in the New York Times, for example, 12 artists described how the crisis is influencing their work.

Here artist Xavier Cortada explains to the Times why he made a work showing residential street numbers underwater. “In response to South Florida’s vulnerability to rising sea levels, the village of Pinecrest, Florida will encourage its 6,000 households to install an ‘Underwater HOA [Homeowner Association]’ yard sign (similar to the 18- by 24-inch ‘Home for Sale’ yard signs used by realtors) on their front lawns during the first week of December. I numbered each yard sign from 0 to 17 feet (the municipality’s land elevation range) to show how many feet of melted glacial water must rise before a particular property is underwater.” Oy.

860_climate_change_and_artArt: Xavier Cortada
This painted sign is a marker that someone can plant in their yard showing that the property would be underwater with a sea-level rise of five feet.

Meanwhile, the fascinating website This Is Colossal has for some years been following the amazing paper creations of Diana Beltrán Herrera as she expands from birds she knows to environments she has never seen to helping nonprofits battle climate change.

Grace Ebert writes, “In 2012, Bristol-based artist Diana Beltrán Herrera [began] sculpting impeccably layered paper birds and other wildlife as a way to record her surroundings. Her lifelike pieces continuously have captured nature’s finely detailed and minuscule elements, like the fibrous texture of feathers and the veins running through leaves.

“Today, the artist has expanded the practice to include exotic species and environments she’s never seen up close, developing her paper techniques to express the more nuanced details of the shapes and textures she studies in biology books. Now focusing on the structural elements of fungi, fruit, and florals, Beltrán Herrera shares with Colossal:

‘Paper as a medium for documentation allows me to register and create notions and ideas of subjects that I have not experienced in real life but that I can experience when a sculpture is completed. I like this approach because it is not harmful, and through my work, I can show and tell my viewers about the things I have been learning, of the importance of nature just by researching and making it myself.’

“Much of her work centers on conservation efforts and environmental justice. For example, a recent commission by Greenpeace UK bolstered the organization’s Plastic Free Rivers campaign. ‘I am constantly looking for more subjects that are relevant to the times we are living in, so that through my work I can communicate important information that can educate or just make things more visible.’ …

“Her hope is to merge graphic and digital design with her paper pieces, potentially adding in animation, as well. Ultimately, her goal is to dive into larger projects. ‘I don’t see my work as something I want to know how to make and stay safe, but as a challenge, that will always allow me to wonder how to execute and create things that were never made with paper,’ she says.” More.

Other Colossal articles on the artist’s work can be found here. Follow her on Instagram, @dianabeltranherrera.

A musical composition created from climate-change data is another example of using an art to raise consciousness about the current state of the natural world.  From the website Science News for Students.

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Photo: OceanBased Perpetual Energy
Using the constant flow of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean to generate power holds promise for an energy future based on renewables.

People fighting global warming have been understandably concerned that coronavirus has soaked up all the oxygen (to coin a phrase) in the public forum. On social media, they try to remind us that health issues — and racial justice, too, for that matter — are inextricably tied to pollution, global warming, and climate justice. I heard one expert opine on the radio that our clearer skies would not last and that as polluting manufacturing slows down so does manufacturing related to renewable energy.

So I was happy to see from today’s story that inventors in the renewable arena are still inventing.

Craig Pittman writes at the Washington Post, “Nasser Alshemaimry was on a boat last month, heading for a spot in the Atlantic Ocean to test out his turbines. He was also, he said, heading for completion of his final life goal.

“ ‘This is my last hurrah,’ said Alshemaimry, 70. ‘I’m going to do this and then retire.’

“A year ago his company, OceanBased Perpetual Energy, agreed to work with Florida Atlantic University to develop a way to generate electricity by harnessing the steady-flowing Gulf Stream, the powerful ocean current that brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic and up the East Coast to Canada. Now his company was ready for the first test of five types of turbines to see which one would work best while anchored 80 feet below the ocean’s surface.

“A successful test, Alshemaimry said, would lead to a project that would cost an estimated $16 billion. The goal: in five years, producing 5 gigawatts of electricity from turbines spun by the Gulf Stream, which would be sent through underwater cables to a power distribution station built in the West Palm Beach area.

“The 12-person team submerged the turbines in the Gulf Stream current approximately 20 miles offshore between Broward and Palm Beach counties [and] left them there for 24 hours to see which ones would spin the best in the Gulf Stream’s flow, producing power with the fewest problems. …

“All of the turbines worked well, but the team selected a design that looks like a pair of airplane engines mounted on a single wing to eliminate the torque caused by the rotating propellers.

Ocean energy works very much like wind power — the force of the sea turns the propellers of a turbine, activating a generator to produce electricity.

“Small numbers of underwater energy devices are unlikely to harm marine life, change their habitats or affect the natural flow of ocean waters, according to [oceanographers] with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in conjunction with the International Energy Agency. But submerged turbines do come with unique challenges — electrical parts have to be sealed and must resist corrosion, while underwater repairs are disruptive and difficult.

“Producing energy from the ocean is not a new idea. The La Rance tidal power station in Brittany, France, has been using 24 turbines to convert ocean tides into electrical power since 1966. Ocean power produces none of the carbon emissions linked to climate change, and it appeals to some energy executives because tides and currents are predictable, unlike solar and wind. But the cost of building the complex infrastructure required is so great that, so far, solar and wind have outpaced it. …

“ ‘Many of these niche applications, while interesting and helpful for research purposes, can’t compete in the wholesale power market,’ said the [Energy Information Administration’s] Glenn McGrath. …

“Gabriel M. Alsenas, director of the Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Florida Atlantic, said that’s in part because ocean energy hasn’t been given the same government subsidies [as] solar and wind. …

“Alshemaimry, a Saudi entrepreneur with prior experience building solar-powered homes, spent several years working on a never-completed tidal energy project in Sweden. Then [he] met a U.S. Department of Energy official who suggested he contact Alsenas at Florida Atlantic University about the use of ocean currents. …

“After one phone conversation … Alsenas said, Alshemaimry dropped his Swedish project, switched from waves to currents and moved his entire operation. …

“ ‘Tidal is not 24/7 power,’ [Alshemaimry] said. ‘It’s back and forth. … The Gulf Stream flows 24/7/365.’ ” More here.

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Photo: Manjunath Kiran / AFP / Getty
A nationwide lockdown has had positive effects on India’s air quality. Says the
New Yorker magazine, “The sky is clearer, rivers are less contaminated, and people have awakened to possible change.”

Will less air travel, commuting, and industrial smoke mean long-term improvement in global warming and pollution? One expert I heard on the radio said no because there has also been a slowdown in work on alternate energy.

But I do think if people see a difference in their skies, they may be more motivated to keep carbon reduction going. When they can see that clear skies are not a hopeless dream, it makes an impression.

In the New Yorker, Raghu Karnad has written about what people in India are seeing.

“On the morning of April 3rd, residents of Jalandhar, an industrial town in the Indian state of Punjab, woke to a startling sight: a panorama of snowcapped mountains across the eastern sky. The peaks and slopes of the Dhauladhars—a range in the lesser Himalayas—were not new, but the visibility was. … On March 24th, as a national lockdown was imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, nearly all of Jalandhar’s road traffic came to a halt, along with its manufacture of auto parts, hand tools, and sports equipment.

“Ten days later, suspended particulates had dispersed from the air, and the Himalayas were unveiled. Residents gathered on their rooftops, posting photos of far, icy elevations towering behind water tanks and clotheslines.

‘Never seen Dhauladhar range from my home rooftop in Jalandhar,’ the international cricketer Harbhajan Singh, who was born there forty years ago, tweeted. ‘Never could imagine that’s possible.’

“The view from my own rooftop, fifteen hundred miles to the south, in Bangalore, has not revealed any equivalent surprises. Instead, there is the birdsong. … I could never have imagined it possible, in an Indian city, to wake up not to the sounds of traffic but to the sovereignty of bulbuls and mynahs over the morning air. …

“The silence on the street may be therapeutic, but it can also feel grim, suspenseful. It suggests the held breath of a country bracing for disaster — not only for the brunt of a pandemic but for empty savings accounts, purses, and pantries. Millions of Indians eat only if they are paid wages each day, which means that when the lockdown was announced, a second epidemic, of hunger, began to unfold. …

“Of the thirty cities with the worst air pollution in the world, twenty-one are in northern India. … The World Health Organization has linked exposure to PM2.5—particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less—to a hundred thousand deaths in India each year, and that’s just among children below the age of five.

“The coronavirus will only compound these morbidities. Studies of viral pandemics such as the 1918 flu, or the 2003 SARS outbreak, found that residents of areas with more polluted air were far more likely to die. … The worst of the smog is seasonal, drifting over the city when the farmers of the Indo-Gangetic plain burn crop stubble after the harvest, in October. …

“The lockdown, whatever its effect on the virus, has given Indian cities the kiss of life. In a week, Delhi’s PM2.5 count dropped by seventy-one per cent. The sky is bluer now, the Yamuna River less black, and my friends say that the stars are out at night. ..

“The lockdown is also improving our understanding of the complex phenomena that contribute to pollution. ‘From a research viewpoint, this is a fantastic experiment,’ Sarath Guttikunda, a founder and director of UrbanEmissions.info, told me over the phone. …

‘What we’re seeing now is unprecedented: drops in commercial activity, industrial activity, and transport, all at the same time — not just in a city but, significantly, across a region,’ he said. The past few weeks have allowed his team to assess, for example, how responsible a given city is for its air quality. …

” ‘Now we don’t have to blindly say, ‘Look, you are responsible for seventy per cent of your pollution. Please do something about it,” Guttikunda said. ‘We have that proof.’ …

“To truly revitalize our air, we need to change how we cook, build, farm, travel, consume, and produce—bearing in mind, through it all, how we breathe.

“Such comprehensive action can seem impossible. Guttikunda’s hopeful analogy is to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, a turning point for Beijing. …

” ‘For two months, people got to see the change possible in the city. … As soon as the Games were over, the restrictions were lifted and the PM2.5 levels shot back up,’ Guttikunda said. ‘But now there was a public outcry saying, “Look, we could have those blue skies for longer. We don’t mind the restrictions.” ‘ ”

More here.

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Photo: Murdo MacLeod/Guardian 
Helped by volunteers, Trees for Life planted nearly 2 million native trees on its Scottish projects.

Sometimes a tree has to be cut down because it’s rotting. But if it’s your tree, you can offset the loss for the planet by donating to an organization that plants lots of trees. Planting a lot of trees is important because it takes a long time before a bunch of little trees has the climate-saving benefits of one big tree.

I gave to the the Arbor Day Foundation last year after sadly saying good-bye to an old, old maple. Then the New York Times suggested Eden Reforestration Projects, which sounded excellent. The Times also provided names of organizations working on other climate-saving activities, including the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and a group providing fuel-efficient stoves in Kenya.

Patrick Barkham, reporting for the Guardian from Scotland, shows what can be done with a dedicated group of volunteers.

“The bracken-clad hills are marked ‘Dundreggan forest’ on the map but this Scottish glen is mostly stark Highland scenery: open, beautiful, and almost totally devoid of trees.

“On a steep-sided little gully, 40 years ago, a few baby silver birches escaped relentless browsing by red deer and grew tall. Now, the nearby path through the bracken is dusted with thousands of brown specks: birch seeds.

‘Each year, this “forest” produces trillions of birch seed,’ says Doug Gilbert, the operations manager for the charity Trees for Life at Dundreggan. ‘Until we reduce the deer pressure, not a single one has grown into a tree. Once we get the deer population right, this forest will absolutely take off. It’s starting to do that now.’

“The charity purchased the Dundreggan hunting estate 11 years ago. Slowly – ‘at tree speed,’ smiles Gilbert – it is rewilding 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of this degraded Highland landscape, restoring a diversity of native trees, scrub and associated life, from the dark bordered beauty moth to black grouse and, yes, red deer. …

“During the general election campaign, politicians desperately tried to outbid each other with tree-planting pledges. Who doesn’t love a tree? More trees can tackle the climate crisis – absorbing carbon dioxide – and the biodiversity crisis. But Trees for Life’s efforts reveal it is not quite so simple.

“Since Victorian times, when the sheep estates that followed the Highland clearances were replaced by more lucrative deer hunting estates, the landscape, and economic model, has been shaped by red deer. Around Dundreggan there are also non-native sika and roe deer. …

“The first step at Dundreggan has been to increase deer culling. Ecologists calculate that a red deer population of five per sq km in the wider landscape will allow natural regeneration; in many Highland regions it is 20. But culling deer is controversial because the value of stalking that estates base on deer numbers.

“Trees for Life has proceeded slowly with culling, seeking positive dialogue with neighbouring stalking estates. They’ve also tried non-lethal methods such as bagpipe-playing volunteers acting as nocturnal deer scarers. Trees and deer can coexist and Dundreggan’s deer population is now at a level where some young birches, pines, rowans and junipers will grow tall. …

“All the trees come from Scottish seeds – meaning they are suited to Highland climates and species, as well as being free of novel diseases. Half have been grown from seeds collected around Dundreggan. Its on-site nursery bristles with 94,000 saplings.

“Seed-collecting is not as simple as it sounds. Seed must come from a wide variety of individual trees to ensure genetic diversity. Cones from Scots pines have to be harvested before they drop to the ground, so specialist tree-climbers are employed. Trees for Life specialises in growing non-commercial high-mountain species such as woolly willow and dwarf birch. Surviving specimens are often only found on cliffs and crevices – with seeds or cuttings only retrievable by specialist climbers.

“Because of the deer grazing, every sapling is planted within a fenced enclosure (costing £10 [$12.79] per metre). Fencing is ‘a little bit of an admission of failure,’ says Gilbert. In the long term, when reducing deer numbers becomes less controversial, trees won’t need fences. Gilbert hopes the fences will last 30 years, when the well-established trees and scrub will survive browsing deer.” More.

(By the way, does anyone remember deer stalking in the children’s classic Wee Gillis?)

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Photo: Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District
Some California dairy farmers, concerned about their farms’ effect on global warming,
are working on long-term carbon sequestration.

My recent post “Farmers Turning Waste to Energy” described an effort to combine food waste with cow manure and convert methane gas to electricity. But as Earle noted in Comments, burning methane ultimately means more global warming. He recommended helping farmers put carbon back in the ground in ways that also improve the farm’s bottom line. It’s happening in California.

I went online and found this report at the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District (RCD) website.

“As much as one-third of the surplus CO2 in the atmosphere driving climate change has resulted from land management practices on agricultural lands.

Carbon farming, an array of strategies designed to promote long-term carbon sequestration, holds the potential to significantly reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases by capturing carbon in the soil and plant material, while enhancing soil health and productivity.

“The RCD and its LandSmart partners are working to develop a carbon planning component to the comprehensive conservation plans developed through the LandSmart program, identifying practices that would … provide multiple benefits for climate change resiliency, by reducing atmospheric CO2 levels while improving soil health, water holding capacity, and crop and forage production. …

“Practices such as hedgerows and windbreaks [also] work to both sequester CO2 while enhancing on-farm wildlife and pollinator habitat. …

“With the use of a wide variety of beneficial practices, Sonoma County farmers have the ability to reach our County’s goal for greenhouse gas reductions. … In the words of our Executive Director, Brittany Jensen, carbon farming is a regional tactic to address a global problem.

“ ‘By helping farmers make carbon farming a part of their daily operations, we have the opportunity to work on a global problem – climate change – and make a local difference.’ …

“The Ocean Breeze Dairy has been operated by the producer Jarrid Bordessa, a fifth-generation dairy operator, since 2003. In those last 16 years, his business model has shifted to grass-fed, certified organic milk production, and he is the right place to do just that. The Valley Ford dairy covers 310 acres of coastal grassland and over 4,500 feet of perennial stream.

“In the 2018 annual newsletter, we shared an article about Ocean Breeze Dairy, their distributor, Organic Valley, the Carbon Cycle Institute and the RCD developed a Carbon Farm Plan for the property, identifying opportunities to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, the RCD was successful in securing a California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Healthy Soils Program Demonstration Project to implement two of the practices identified in the plan and to engage with local farmers and ranchers through public workshops.

“The two practices being implemented are the application of compost and the restoration of riparian habitat along lower Ebabias Creek, the primary tributary of Americano Creek, whose watershed estuary, the Estero Americano, drains into Bodega Bay and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Considered one of California’s most unique coastal wetland types, the Estero Americano contains a diverse assemblage of wetland communities and estuarine habitats.”

Read more here.

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