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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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offset_forest

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.
merlin_159839643_94176435-b622-4a9d-a118-aa89da8c425c-articlelarge

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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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web_al-checks-box-smal

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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