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Posts Tagged ‘pollution’

Photo: Emli Bendixen/Arts Fund/PA.
The venue in London’s Forest Hill, says the
Guardian,”is the capital’s only museum where environment, ecology and human cultures can be seen side by side.”

What special features are people looking for in museums these days? The traditional recorders of art and history keep changing. A look at a museum award in the UK may provide an insight into what is currently valued.

Nadia Khomami writes at the Guardian, “The Horniman museum in London has been crowned the Art Fund museum of the year 2022 for its work to inspire the next generation. …

“Its director, Nick Merriman, was presented with the £100,000 [about $117,000] prize – the world’s largest museum prize – by the DJ and broadcaster Huw Stephens at a ceremony at the Design Museum. … The Horniman was commended for completely reconfiguring its program in 2021 after the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and the increasing urgency of the climate crisis.

“It set up its ‘Reset Agenda,’ which focused on reorienting activity to reach diverse audiences more representative of London. This included embedding a Climate and Ecology Manifesto – from an online club of Environment Champions to the creation of a microforest to combat local air pollution.

“ ‘From a takeover of the galleries by children to its youth panel of 14-19-year-olds, work experience opportunities and Kickstart apprenticeships, the museum is inspiring the next generation,’ Art Fund, the UK’s national art charity, said.

“A further focus of the Reset Agenda was the 696 Program, an interrogation of the power and responsibility that public organizations have in supporting local music.

“The museum was said to showcase Black British creativity through a sold-out festival that reached 8,000 visitors, while nearly 20,000 experienced the related exhibition.

“Jenny Waldman, Art Fund director and chair of the judges, said: ‘The Horniman museum and gardens has now blossomed into a truly holistic museum bringing together art, nature and its myriad collections.’ …

“Dame Diane Lees, director-general of the Imperial War Museums and fellow judge, said the museum was championing the natural environment and commissioning artists and music festivals ‘to bring the eclectic collections of Frederick Horniman new relevance with diverse communities.’ …

“The 2022 edition of the annual award championed organizations whose achievements told the story of museums’ creativity and resilience, and particularly focused on those engaging the next generation of audiences in innovative ways.

“The other four shortlisted museums – the Story Museum in Oxford, the People’s History Museum in Manchester, Ty Pawb in Wrexham [Wales], and the Museum of Making in Derby – each received a £15,000 [about $18,000] prize in recognition of their achievements.”

I’m looking at an example form the Horniman website. An upcoming show, “We Breathe, Together: A Day of Community Air Action and Exploration” invites all who “dream of a clean air future – and want the tools to take action.

“From building (and racing!) your own hydrogen car, learning the skills to create a 2D stop motion clean air animation, to co-designing immersive climate adventures and ink breath painting. Meet incredible local campaigners in our Clean Air Village and listen to expert talks.

” ‘We Breathe, Together’ extends the conversation around ‘Breathe:2022‘ by artist Dryden Goodwin, the ambitious multi-site artwork exploring air pollution produced by Invisible Dust. ‘Breathe:2022’ combines over 1,000 new drawings, appearing as large-scale still and moving images on sites close to the heavily polluted South Circular Road and beyond, from May to December 2022.

“As part of the day, you can also immerse yourself in ‘Airborne,’ artist Sarah Stirk’s audio-visual installation that seeks to make the invisible threat of pollution visible.”

More at the Guardian, here. I know I have friends in the UK. If you go, will you share your reactions?

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Photo: Katherine Rapin.
Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen hands a flat of wild celery to an EPA diver for transplant. Local grasses and oysters are bringing hope to rivers.

We can rescue our environment if we try. Even the infamous city Camden is getting into the act.

Katherine Rapin writes at YaleEnvironment360, “On a recent summer morning near Camden, New Jersey, two divers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hovered over a patch of sediment 10 feet below the surface of the Delaware River. With less than two feet of visibility in the churning estuary, they were transplanting a species crucial to the ecosystem: Vallisneria americana, or wild celery grass. One diver held a GoPro camera and a flashlight, capturing a shaky clip of the thin, ribbon-like blades bending with the current.

“Watching the divers’ bubbles surface from the EPA’s boat was Anthony Lara, experiential programs supervisor at the Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, who had nurtured these plants for months in tanks, from winter buds to mature grasses some 24 inches long. …

“This was the first planting of a new restoration project led by Upstream Alliance, a nonprofit focused on public access, clean water, and coastal resilience in the Delaware, Hudson, and Chesapeake watersheds. In collaboration with the Center for Aquatic Sciences, and with support from the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic team and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the alliance is working to repopulate areas of the estuary with wild celery grass, a plant vital to freshwater ecosystems. It’s among the new, natural restoration projects focused on bolstering plants and wildlife to improve water quality in the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for some 15 million people.

“Such initiatives are taking place across the United States, where, 50 years after passage of the Clean Water Act, urban waterways are continuing their comeback, showing increasing signs of life. And yet ecosystems still struggle, and waters are often inaccessible to the communities that live around them. Increasingly, scientists, nonprofits, academic institutions, and state agencies are focusing on organisms like bivalves (such as oysters and mussels) and aquatic plants to help nature restore fragile ecosystems, improve water quality, and increase resilience.

Bivalves and aquatic vegetation improve water clarity by grounding suspended particles, allowing more light to penetrate deeper

“They also have exceptional capacity to cycle nutrients — both by absorbing them as food and by making them more available to other organisms. Thriving underwater plant meadows act as carbon sinks and provide food and habitat for scores of small fish, crabs, and other bottom-dwellers. Healthy bivalve beds create structure that acts as a foundation for benthic habitat and holds sediment in place.

“ ‘Why not take the functional advantage of plants and animals that are naturally resilient and rebuild them?’ says Danielle Kreeger, science director at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, which is spearheading a freshwater mussel hatchery in southwest Philadelphia. …

“One hundred miles north of Philadelphia, the Billion Oyster Project has been restoring the bivalves in New York Harbor since 2010, engaging more than 10,000 volunteers and 6,000 students in the project. [See my post on that here and search on ‘oyster’ for related posts.] Oyster nurseries are being installed in Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland, where until recently they were believed to have been extinct for a century. And a hatchery 30 miles west of Chicago has dispersed 25,000 mussels into area waterways, boosting the populations of common freshwater mussel species.

“Underwater vegetation restoration projects have been underway in the Chesapeake Bay and Tampa Bay for years, and more recently in California where seagrass species are in sharp decline. (Morro Bay, for example, has lost more than 90 percent of its eelgrass beds in the last 15 years.) The California Ocean Protection Council’s 2020 Strategic Plan to Protect California’s Coast and Ocean aims to preserve the mere 15,000 acres of known seagrass beds and cultivate 1,000 more acres by 2025.

“Scientists stress that these projects must be implemented alongside strategies to continue curbing contaminants, mainly excess nutrients from sewage and fertilizers, flowing into our waterways — still the most critical step in improving water quality. After several decades of aquatic vegetation plantings in the Chesapeake Bay, for example, scientists say that the modest increase of plants is largely due to nature restoring itself following a reduction in nutrient pollution.

“And any human intervention in a complex ecosystem raises a host of compelling concerns, such as how to ensure sufficient genetic diversity and monitor competition for food and resources. Scientists say that, in many cases, they’re learning as they go.

“Still, in areas where the natural environment is improving, bringing back bivalves and aquatic plants can create a lasting foundation for entire ecosystems. And restoration initiatives are an active form of stewardship that connects people to their waterways, helping them understand the ecosystems we depend on for our survival.”

More at YaleEnvironment360, here. No firewall.

It’s surprising what can happen when people who didn’t care in the past start to care.

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Photo: D.I.R.T. Studio.
Vintondale Reclamation Park, Vintondale, Pennsylvania. Landscape architect Julie Bargmann’s “work to revitalize toxic sites and reconnect them to their communities has earned her the nicknames ‘Toxic Avenger’ and ‘Queen of Slag,’ ” says the
Times.

Have you ever looked at a polluting site, maybe fire from a smokestack or rusting steam engines, and seen a kind of artistic beauty — that is, something that would be beautiful if the poisonous fangs were removed?

Today’s story is about a landscape architect with that way of seeing and the skills to reclaim what had been lost.

Tanya Mohn reports at the New York Times, “For more than 30 years, Julie Bargmann, a landscape architect and founder of D.I.R.T. Studio (Dump It Right There) in Charlottesville, Va., has focused on contaminated and forgotten urban and postindustrial sites, dedicating her practice to addressing social and environmental justice. …

Her projects include an abandoned pump house and reservoirs in Dallas transformed into an art-filled residential garden; the derelict parking lot of a 19th-century fire station in Detroit converted into an urban woodland; historic shipyards that became welcome centers and corporate campuses; and former coal mines, quarries and foundries recast as community parks and public spaces.

In an essay titled ‘Justice from the Ground Up,‘ Ms. Bargmann wrote that there is a disturbing overlap between maps showing where poor people and ethnic minorities live and where contaminated soils exist in the United States. …

“In October 2021 she was named the inaugural winner of the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize, created to celebrate prominent living landscape architects.

“ ‘Being a fierce public advocate is part of the practice of landscape architecture,’ said Charles A. Birnbaum, president and chief executive of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, the nonprofit that awarded the prize. … ‘Bargmann’s legacy is much bigger than the built work,’ Mr. Birnbaum said. ‘It’s valuing the landscape and the cultural life associated with it.’ This interview has been edited for clarity and length. …

“NYT: Did your early years impact your career focus?

“Julie Bargmann: My own little industrial history started riding in my family station wagon on the New Jersey Turnpike. I was living in a really nice postwar neighborhood with big old trees, but when we would see all of the refineries and factories I thought, ‘Wow.’ I remember looking beyond them at all the modest workers’ houses. I went to college in Pittsburgh, a city with those same working neighborhoods stacked up on the hillsides and those belching steel mills down in the valley. I loved the steel mills. They’re so raw, they’re so tough. Everybody sees the bridges, but in the mills you’re seeing and feeling the heat, your jaw drops at the faces blackened by smoke. …

“Three decades ago no landscape designer was looking at the vast manufacturing and mined landscapes, landfills and every type of degraded landscape. When I thought about the number of acres, it was astonishing. That set me off. Folks might think I’m a bit crazy, but I’m going to go find the landscapes that I want to work on, not more or less already perfect landscapes. …

Was there a turning point in your approach to landscape design?

“During my first teaching job, I got some funding, and I took off on the road and looked at mined landscapes around the country, including restricted areas. It was fascinating, but when I learned what environmental engineers were doing, it infuriated me. They were doing very quick fixes. They took no account of the social or cultural implications of the landscapes; environmentally, they were squeaking by to meet the regulations. That completely negates any of that human agency. They’re throwing meaning out, robbing it from the community. That’s really when I launched into a holistic approach to my work.

Do most prospective clients understand your approach?

“When I talk to a corporate leader or an E.P.A. representative who are skeptical, I don’t go on defending the sexy rust. I tell them stories. And I work really hard to pose alternatives. Degraded sites, toxic sites, a lot of times are not 100 percent contaminated. I always use the word ‘regenerate,’ to create anew. I became fascinated with biologically-based remediation technologies. That science has totally propelled what we can do.

How did you learn about those technologies?

“I go out into the field. I call up a scientist. The whole mining world was a total crash course on the different types of reclamation law.

I always tell my students, do your homework, and do it in the world. Engage real people with the design process.

Vintondale Reclamation Park, a 35-acre site in coal country near Pittsburgh, completed in 2002, was pivotal. Why?

“It was a perfect, multidisciplinary team of engineers, hydrogeologists, architects, artists, historians and landscape architects. We learned everything about acid mine drainage treatment to design a natural filtration system that addressed years of pollution from mine runoff. Excavators resculpted 19th-century beehive ovens used to convert coal to coke to make steel. We brought them out from behind those chain-link fences and made the science visible, beautiful. Now it’s a neighborhood park alongside a historic bike trail. I mean, boom. It all came together. People started paying attention. There really weren’t any models at that time in the U.S. From then on I could point to something in rural Pennsylvania and say, ‘This is totally possible.’ ”

More at the Times, here.

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Photo: Diliff, David Iliff. License: CC BY-SA 3.0.
Sunset over the Thames River in London.

When I worry that humans may never repair any of the damage we have done to the environment, I remind myself that once upon a time the Erie River routinely caught fire and no longer does.

Similarly, as Veronica Edmonds-Brown, Senior Lecturer in Aquatic Ecology at the University of Hertfordshire, reports for the Conversation, fallible humans have brought back the Thames.

Edmonds-Brown writes, “It might surprise you to know that the River Thames is considered one of the world’s cleanest rivers running through a city. What’s even more surprising is that it reached that status just 60 years after being declared ‘biologically dead‘ by scientists at London’s Natural History Museum.

“Yet despite this remarkable recovery, there’s no room for complacency – the Thames still faces new and increasing threats from pollution, plastic and a rising population. …

“Where it bisects London, it has experienced pressures from expanding numbers of citydwellers since medieval times. The river became a repository for waste, with leaking cesspits and dumped rubbish reducing many of its tributaries to running sewers. [Read Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend.] Many of these small rivers now lie underneath the streets of London, long covered up to hide their foul smells. …

“The final straw was the hot summer of 1858 – referred to as the Great Stink – when the high levels of human and industrial waste in the river actually drove people out of London. The civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazelgette was commissioned to build a sewage network to alleviate the problem, which is still in use today. What followed was over a century of improvements to the network, including upgrading sewage treatment works and installing household toilets linked to the system.

“Bombings across the city during the second world war destroyed parts of the network, allowing raw sewage to again enter the river. What’s more, as the Thames widens and slows through central London, fine particles of sediment from its tributaries settle on the riverbed. These were, and remain, heavily contaminated with a range of heavy metals from roads and industry, creating a toxic aquatic environment.

“For most fish to thrive, the water they live in must contain at least 4-5 milligrams of dissolved oxygen per litre (mg/l). Measurements taken during the 1950s showed that dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in the Thames were at just 5% saturation: the rough equivalent of 0.5 mg/l. That meant the river could only support a few aquatic invertebrate species like midges and fly larvae. …

“From Kew to Gravesend, a 69km [a 43-mile] length of river, no fish were recorded in the 1950s. Surveys in 1957 found the river was unable to sustain life, and the River Thames was eventually declared ‘biologically dead.’

“With considerable effort from policymakers, the river’s fate began to change. From 1976, all sewage entering the Thames was treated, and legislation between 1961 and 1995 helped to raise water quality standards. …

“One of the main turning points in the Thames’ health was the installation of large oxygenators, or ‘bubblers,’ to increase DO levels. … The flounder was officially the first fish species to return to the Thames in 1967, followed by 19 freshwater fish and 92 marine species such as bass and eel into the estuary and lower Thames. The return of salmon during the 1980s was a thrilling marker for conservationists, and today around 125 species of fish are regularly recorded, with exotic species like seahorses even being occasionally sighted.”

Although, as Edmonds-Brown notes, this recovery is remarkable, “there remain deeper, unresolved issues relating to contaminated sediments still entering the river.” Read more at the Conversation, here.

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Photo: Salvatore Laporta / KONTROLAB / LightRocket via Getty Images.
A beach in Naples, Italy, covered in plastic waste following a storm in 2018.

The pandemic unfortunately increased my use of takeout meals packaged in plastic, but today I’m back to thinking about ways to reduce plastic consumption. For example, instead of buying brands that usually come in plastic, I look for alternatives in glass: mayonnaise, olive oil, applesauce, lemon juice. Suzanne showed me a brand of yogurt that comes in glass, too. And my water bottle is glass with a kind of rubber coating.

You do have to hunt for these things. It’s not like government here is going to help you as the European Union would. This month, for instance, the EU banned many throwaway plastic products.

At YaleEnvironment360, Paul Hockenos reports, “In Europe, beachgoers have grown accustomed to the dispiriting sight of plastic garbage strewn along shorelines. Indeed, 85 percent of the continent’s saltwater beaches and seas exceed pollution standards on marine litter. The Mediterranean Sea is the most defiled of all, with researchers collecting an average of 274 pieces of plastic refuse per 100 meters of shoreline. And beneath the waves, microplastics have turned coastal waters into toxic ‘plastic soups.’

“In an all-out push to clean up Europe’s beaches — one plank in the European Union’s trailblazing efforts to address the almost 28 million U.S. tons of plastic waste it generates annually — a ban comes into effect July 3 that halts the sale in EU markets of the 10 plastic products that most commonly wash up on the continent’s shores. These include, among other items, plastic bottle caps, cutlery, straws and plates, as well as Styrofoam food and beverage containers.

“The ban is the most visible sign of Europe’s efforts to curtail plastics pollution by creating the world’s first-ever circular plastics regime. By the end of this decade, this will lead to a ban on throwaway plastics, the creation of a comprehensive reuse system for all other plastics, and the establishment of an expansive and potentially lucrative European market for recycled plastics.

“A raft of EU measures is now driving investments and innovation toward circular solutions that, according to experts and EU officials, will come to define Europe’s low-carbon economy and enhance its global competitiveness. A circular economy is one in which products and materials are kept in use along their entire life cycle, from design and manufacturing to reuse or recycling. In contrast to the current, linear system, products don’t end up in the rubbish bin, but rather are reintroduced into the production process.

“Under the EU Plastics Strategy, put forward in 2018, waste guidelines will overhaul the way plastic products are designed, used and recycled. All plastic packaging on the EU market must be recyclable by 2030, and the use of microplastics circumscribed.

The measures are the toughest in the world and have already pushed plastic packaging recycling rates in the EU to an all-time high of 41.5 percent — three times that of the United States.

“The EU has set a target for recycling 50 percent of plastic packaging by 2025, a goal that now looks within reach. And in 2025, a separate collection target of 77 percent will be in place for plastic bottles, increasing to 90 percent by 2029.

“This overarching regime will rely on the widespread adoption of extended producer responsibility schemes, which means that if a company introduces packaging or packaged goods into a country’s market, that firm remains responsible for the full cost of the collection, transportation, recycling or incineration of its products. In effect, the polluter pays. …

“ ‘The EU is taking the creation of a circular economy very seriously, and plastics are at the center of it,’ said Henning Wilts, director of circular economy at Germany’s Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. …

“The U.S., which generates the largest amount of plastic waste in the world, is awash in waste now that China — the largest manufacturer of plastic — no longer accepts imported waste; many U.S. cities end up pitching plastic waste into landfills or burning it. Congress has commissioned the National Academies of Sciences to conduct a sweeping review of the U.S. contribution to plastic waste, due out at the end of this year. …

“ ‘The 10-items ban is big. It’s not greenwashing,’ said Clara Löw, an analyst at the Öko-Institute, a German think tank. ‘There are many more measures afoot within the European Green Deal to rein in plastics and establish circularity as the cornerstone principle of Europe’s plastics economy. Even most Europeans aren’t aware of how much is happening right now.’ …

“Carmine Trecroci, an economist and recycling expert at the University of Brescia in Italy, said that external factors like the price of oil have a major impact; as long as oil is cheap, which it has been in recent years, so too is plastics production, making it all the harder to rein in. The plastics sector in the EU is big business, employing 1.5 million people and generating 350 billion euros in 2019. Trecroci said the powerful Italian plastics lobby fought fiercely to block the 10-item ban, and then to slow and dilute it. In the end, however, the EU approved the ban.”

More at Yale Environment 360, here. Vested interests are always going to fight back against measures like that, but the EU shows that common sense can prevail. In the US, if consumers boycott plastic, I think we will see companies changing.

July 22, 2021 Update: Wow, I just saw that Maine is doing what we’ve been asking for. Read this.

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Photo: Ocean Voyages Institute
So-called “ghost nets” are fishing nets that have broken loose and now float freely, entangling wildlife.

There are so many things going on right now that sometimes it’s hard to remember that crises like global warming and plastic pollution are no less urgent just because illness and job losses are center stage.

Fortunately, all this time we’ve been counting Covid-19 deaths, a few people have been working on the problems that will still be around when the pandemic has ended.

On June 19, Doug Struck reported at the Christian Science Monitor about one woman working to clean up the ocean.

“Nothing pleases Mary Crowley more than to see a huge, dripping, bedraggled fishing net, ensnarled with plastic garbage, being lifted from the sea. That is progress, she says.

“Ms. Crowley, a sailor since childhood days spent in her grandfather’s wooden sailboat on Lake Michigan, has been working for more than a decade to clean up the world’s oceans. She started by urging fishermen to pick up floating plastic. Now her million-dollar effort employs drones, satellites, floating GPS buoys, sophisticated oceanographic models, a corps of yachtsmen, and an oceangoing cargo ship.

“The Kwai, a 140-foot, two-masted cargo sailing vessel that normally shuttles supplies among Pacific islands, has been plucking nets and trash from the Pacific for the past six weeks. It is expected to return to Hawaii around June 23 with 100 tons of debris, the first of what Ms. Crowley hopes will be two such voyages this summer; she is hoping to dispatch the ship for a second voyage in July.

Much of that trash will be ‘ghost nets,’ fishing nets abandoned or lost that float freely, ensnarling fish, marine life, trash, and passing vessels.

“The Kwai’s crew of 11, sailors accustomed to unloading anything from cars to concrete on isolated islands, uses winches and sweat to hoist the heavy nets from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where swirling currents gather floating debris.

“The term is misleading; the area is huge and the debris is spread out. But the Kwai is led to wayward nets in part by GPS buoys that yachtsmen and other sailors, volunteers for Ms. Crowley, have stopped mid-ocean to attach to trash.

“ ‘This work feels great,’ Capt. Brad Ives replies mid-voyage from the Kwai by email. ‘When the weather is good and the nets are flowing, there is no better work for a fine old sailing ship. Crew spirits are high and we are cleaning our Mother Ocean.’ …

“Ms. Crowley began her project as a labor of love for the sea. She runs a yacht chartering business from Sausalito, California. But her clients consistently confirmed her own observations that the ocean seems increasingly cluttered with plastic debris. …

“Every year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic is washed from the lands and is threatening to choke the seas. The United Nations has warned that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Marine mammals are routinely found dead, their bodies clogged with plastics. Microplastics – the result of deteriorating larger pieces or small manufactured beads – are now thoroughly infused in the marine food chain. …

“There are many creative ideas to clean the ocean, and Ms. Crowley supports them all. She formed Ocean Voyages Institute in 1979 to educate audiences about the sea. Over time she gathered a ‘think tank’ of sailors, naval architects, marine engineers, and fishermen. ‘We decided that one of the most harmful things going on in the ocean is the huge proliferation of large plastics,’ she says. ‘This includes derelict fishing gear, and boats and piers and car fenders.’ …

“ ‘There is debris practically every day inside the gyre,’ Captain Ives writes from the ship. … ‘The most difficult are always the big nets. … These require divers in the water to get cargo slings around them and often several lifts to get them wrestled aboard. A large net can take several hours to wrestle aboard.’ …

“Ms. Crowley has recruited a cadre of volunteers with a gentle inexhaustibility.

“ ‘As someone who loves the ocean and has had the pleasure and honor of spending lots of time in the ocean,’ she says, ‘it’s my responsibility to not have the health of our ocean held hostage by plastic garbage.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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karnad-indiapollutioncoronavirus

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: 525 West 52nd Street
The space on top of the 525W52 building in New York features plants, lounge chairs and a view of the Hudson. Nice place to live.

Practically paralyzed by the headlines today, I think I will write about green rooftops.

That’s while I try to absorb the “news of fresh disasters” (to quote Beyond the Fringe) and figure out what one person can do. Got to remind myself that the majority of human beings are just living day to day, taking care of their families and their communities, and trying to make the world a little better instead of a lot worse.

So, green rooftops.

Kelly DiNardo writes at the New York Times, “When David Michaels moved to Chicago this year, he chose the Emme apartment building in part because of the third-floor green roof, which has a lawn, an area for grilling, fire pits and a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden.

“ ‘The green space was a huge factor in choosing this apartment,’ Mr. Michaels said. ‘My wife and I are out there every other night, grilling or relaxing. And we like that they host classes out there.’

“The Emme actually has two rooftop gardens — the one visible to residents on a deck on the third floor and a 5,000-square-foot garden on the roof of the 14-story building. Both are run by the Roof Crop, an urban farm that grows food for restaurants on a handful of roofs in Chicago. Residents at the Emme can also subscribe to regular bundles of rooftop-grown fruits and vegetables.

“As concerns about climate change and dwindling natural resources grow, green roofs have become increasingly popular. The Toronto-based organization Green Roofs for Healthy Cities estimates an increase of about 15 percent in the number of green roofs in North America since 2013.

“Replacing black asphalt and shingles with plants can lower the surrounding air temperature, filter dirty storm water and reduce a building’s energy use.

While it is difficult to calculate the savings, as utility costs vary from city to city, the National Research Council of Canada estimates a green roof can reduce air-conditioning use in a building by as much as 75 percent. …

“As understanding of the benefits grows, more cities around the world are passing green roof legislation. In 2010 Copenhagen began requiring green roofs on all new commercial buildings with a roof slope of less than 30 degrees. In 2016, the city of Córdoba in Argentina issued a bylaw that directed all rooftops — new or existing — of more than 1,300 square feet to be turned into green roofs. The same year, San Francisco began requiring that 15 to 30 percent of roof space on new buildings incorporate solar panels, green roofs or both. More recently, the New York City Council passed a suite of measures to reduce greenhouse gases, including a requirement for green roofs, solar panels or a combination of both on newly constructed buildings. …

“Toronto was the first city in North America to pass a green roof law, in 2009, requiring new buildings or additions that are greater than 21,000 square feet to cover between 20 and 60 percent of their buildings with vegetation. … Since the law was enacted, roughly 640 green roofs, covering more than five million square feet collectively, have been constructed, effectively changing Toronto’s architectural DNA and making the city a leader in the green roof movement.

“Simply put, a green roof is one that allows for the growth of vegetation, but the process is more involved than plopping down a few potted plants. Typically, a green or living roof is constructed of several layers including a waterproof membrane, a root barrier, a drainage layer, a growing medium — soil is too heavy — and plants. …

“Of course, green roofs are not entirely new.

“ ‘We’ve been using soil and plants as a roofing material for thousands of years,’ said Steven Peck, the founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. ‘The Vikings would flip their boats over and cover them in sod because it’s a great insulator. What’s new is the research the Germans have done.’ …

“In the 1970s, German horticulturists, construction companies and others began developing waterproofing technologies and researching blends of growing mediums that would be lighter than soil. In the 1980s, Germany passed a mix of local and federal laws encouraging green roof development and today the country features approximately 925,000,000 square feet of living roof.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Kalume Kazungu / Nation Media Group
The Flipflopi dhow made entirely from recycled marine plastic being prepared on January 24, 2019, to start its inaugural journey from Lamu to Zanzibar.

I like listening to Public Radio International’s The World because it gives me a window on what’s going on in other countries. People living elsewhere on Plant Earth often know what’s going on in the US, but here most of us have blinders on. It’s as if nothing happens anywhere else unless it affects us directly and immediately.

But all people are concerned about the things that concern us, and many are taking action unheralded in America. Some of the most energetic environmentalists are the residents of poor countries who’ve been most hurt by climate change (see Mary Robinson’s eye-opening book Climate Justice) or who have the most plastic clogging their waterways and beaches.

Consider this story about Kenyans trying to raise the consciousness of their own countrymen and others in Africa.

Kalume Kazungu and Eunince Murathe reported in January at Kenya’s Daily Nation, “The dhow made entirely from recycled marine plastic, the world’s first, has set sail from Lamu Old Town and is headed to Stone Town, Zanzibar. … Aboard 16 crew members, all who were involved in the invention of the vessel, will sail south along the coast of Kenya. …

“The Flipflopi’s maiden journey is meant to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution. … It is sailing for approximately 50 to 80 kilometres a day whilst simultaneously broadcasting the #Plasticrevolution message to a global audience. …

“The Flipflopi team will make several stops where they will be visiting schools, communities and government officials as they discuss solutions and changing mind-sets concerning plastic wastes and the importance of maintaining a clean environment free of plastics.

“[Dhow builder Ali] Skanda said he is confident that the Flipflopi will assist in raising awareness on the danger of using plastics and dumping them anyhow along the beaches.

” ‘We are set for our journey to Zanzibar. We will be passing through various towns along the Coast where we will be making some stops to educate the dwellers on how they can maintain clean beaches as well as avoiding plastic disposal on our ocean beaches.

“ ‘Through the Flipflopi invention, we hope people around the world are inspired to find their own ways to repurpose already used plastic so as to maintain clean beaches which are free of plastic wastes,’ said Mr Skanda.

“Mr Shafi Shetai, a Flipflopi crew member, said he believes the dhow will serve to reinforce the need for continued adherence to the already existing plastic ban since it demonstrates how the increasing amounts of plastic garbage can affect not only marine life but also the lives of residents and the economy.

“Mr Shetai said apart from the existing ban on plastic bags, the government should also ban other plastic materials used daily including straws since they are also posing a challenge to the environment. …

“The venture is aptly named the Flipflopi Project as the boat was built by traditional dhow makers led by Mr Skanda using thousands of repurposed flip-flops and ocean plastic collected on beach clean-ups along the Kenyan Coast. Limiting themselves to locally available technology and materials, the builders collected discarded plastics, shredded them into small pieces, then heated them and remolded them. They then carved the plastic parts exactly the same way they would do to wood.”

Read more at the Daily Nation, here. And for additional details, check out the UN Environment press release on the topic, here.

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Photo: Studio Roosegaarde/flickr
Dutch designer and architect Daan Roosegaarde’s 23 ft. high ‘Smog Free Tower’ removes pollution from the atmosphere.

I wrote recently about a googly-eyed contraption in Baltimore’s harbor that is removing litter — and about the controversy over the relative importance of cleaning up trash vs. stopping it at its source. (See “Mr. Trash Wheel,” here.)

Here is another take. Does creating a sculpture that removes smog from the air we breathe take too much focus away from eliminating smog in the first place? I continue to think that all efforts are important, both for what they accomplish and for the ability to reach more audiences.

Blouin News reports, “Dutch designer and architect Daan Roosegaarde has created a 23 ft. high ‘Smog Free Tower,’ which is the world’s first outdoor air purifier with the ability to suck up smog, filter out pollutant elements and release clean air.

“The tower, resembling a miniature chrome-latticed skyscraper, has been tested in Rotterdam and will soon be installed at public parks in Beijing, a city that suffers from catastrophic levels of smoggy air, writes The New York Times.

“The tower, which can clean up to 30,000 cubic meters of air in an hour, may not bring radical change to a highly polluted city like Beijing but its installation is a symbolic gesture, reminding the society of its responsibility to fight air pollution. The designer will be placing 25 such towers in Beijing’s public parks and plans to introduce the technology in India and Mexico as well, notes RealClear Life.” More here.

I am just realizing I already wrote about another aspect of this project: the smog waste will be turned into diamonds! Read this.

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Photo: The Waterfront Partnership
Known as “Mr. Trash Wheel,” this floating device sucks up plastic from polluted harbors.

There’s an ongoing controversy about whether the energy spent on cleaning up trash in the ocean and other waterways should be devoted to eliminating trash at its source. I’m inclined to think we need to try everything.

Baltimore’s Mr. Trash Wheel is an example of dealing with the litter that got away.

Jackie Snow wrote about it at National Geographic. “Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel, the latter of which was installed in December, are solar- and hydro-powered trash interceptors based in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, clearing debris before it enters the Chesapeake Bay. Over a million pounds of trash has been pulled out of the water by Mr. Trash Wheel since it was installed in May 2014.

“The trash wheel’s creator, John Kellett, worked on the harbor for years and saw garbage floating on the water every day. A sailor and engineer, he approached the city and offered to take a stab at cleaning up the harbor. He built a pilot trash wheel and installed it in 2008. …

“The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, a local nonprofit organization that works on the harbor, noticed a significant reduction of the amount of trash during the pilot program. The organization approached Kellett and offered to get the funds for a bigger trash wheel. The result was installed at the end of the Jones Falls River, which empties into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Besides the pilot, no other like it had existed.

“ ‘No one knew what they were getting themselves into,” said Adam Lindquist, the director of Healthy Harbor Initiative at the ‎Waterfront Partnership.

“The contraption works by drawing power from solar panels and the current of Jones Falls River to turn a waterwheel, which in turn powers a conveyer belt. Containment booms direct the trash towards the conveyer belt, which then drops the debris into a waiting Dumpster. That bin sits on its own platform and can be floated out when it’s time to change it.

“Kellett keeps track of the garbage pulled out of the water. The haul includes almost nine million cigarette butts and over 300,000 plastic bags. The data is used to support environmental legislation. For example, the Waterfront Partnership recently supported a bill that would ban Styrofoam containers. Mr. Trash Wheel picks up an average of 14,000 Styrofoam containers a month, second only to cigarettes. …

“The waste is most often common consumer products, but some unusual things turn up occasionally, like a live ball python—which the National Aquarium in Baltimore helped rescue — and a keg, which was returned for a deposit. Once, an acoustic guitar in pretty good shape turned up. Lindquist asked to keep that one.”

More here and here, where you can see a diagram explaining how it works.

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I know I’m a broken record talking about what one determined person can accomplish, but I want share another example.

At ecoRI News, Sonya Gurwitt writes about a retired Massachusetts harbormaster who made up his mind to put an end to what was polluting a cove near his home.

Horace Field, says Gurwitt, “has lived only meters from Brandt Island Cove for nearly two decades. The water’s edge is connected to Field’s backyard by a short, grassy path. …

“Field wanders through the grasses along the shoreline, untangling the occasional piece of plastic or bit of Styrofoam from vegetation. … Field pinches a a small piece of dirty Styrofoam between his fingers, examining it. This, he said, is a small reminder of the pollution that used to cover the salt marsh — Styrofoam everywhere. …

“It was during his tenure as harbormaster that he noticed more and more pieces of Styrofoam cropping up on his property and along the rest of the Mattapoisett shoreline, from small beads to large chunks.

“The source of the pollution was no mystery — Field knew that the Leisure Shores Marina used uncovered Styrofoam blocks to keep its docks afloat. These were beginning to break down, allowing pieces of foam to float away. …

“In 2005, Field wrote a letter to the Board of Selectmen. He didn’t receive a response or even an acknowledgement of its receipt. Undeterred, Field kept at it — attending town meetings and talking to various committees and boards. …

“It wasn’t until early 2013, after Field retired from the position of harbormaster, that he began to make progress. Fed up with the lack of response from the town and other government agencies, Field contacted the Buzzards Bay Coalition (BBC), a nonprofit ‘dedicated to the restoration, protection, and sustainable use and enjoyment’ of Buzzards Bay and its watershed.

“Field said the BBC took action immediately, sending a team to examine the problem. …

“With the help of the Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, [Korrin Petersen, senior attorney for the coalition] began to research which laws the pollution might violate. Petersen said they discovered that the saltwater marsh is a protected resource under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act. This meant that the Styrofoam debris altering the salt marsh was a violation of that law. …

“Field said the process taught him some important lessons.

Be persistent, and be honest. Have a cause that is bulletproof, and don’t let up on it until you get satisfactory results.

More here.

Photo: Joanna Detz/ecoRI News photos
Horace Field took it upon himself to get Brandt Island Cove in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, cleaned up.

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My husband is from Philadelphia and remembers hearing popular lines from a motivational speech in that city, about finding “acres of diamonds” in your own backyard.

“Today, Russell Conwell is best remembered as the founder and first president of Temple University,” says Vimeo. “But in his lifetime, Conwell had a very different claim to fame — that of popular orator.” (A Vimeo video “explores the history of Conwell’s most famous speech, ‘Acres of Diamonds,’ an inspirational message he delivered, by his own estimate, 6,100 times.”)

“Acres of Diamonds” was the first thing I thought of when Kai posted on Facebook about an initiative to turn China’s out-of-control air pollution into diamonds.

Rachel Hallett at the World Economic Forum wrote, “Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde has come up with an innovative plan to tackle Beijing’s air pollution problem – and in doing so, turn a health hazard into a thing of beauty.

“After a pilot in Rotterdam, the Smog Free Project is coming to China. The project consists of two parts. First, a 7m tall tower sucks up polluted air, and cleans it at a nano-level. Second, the carbon from smog particles is turned into diamonds. Yes, diamonds. …

“Roosegaarde explained … ‘We’ve created environments that none of us want,’ he said. ‘Where children have to stay inside, and where the air around us is a health hazard.’

“The towers suck up polluted air, and clean it, releasing it back into parks and playgrounds. And according to Roosegaarde, these areas are 70-75% cleaner than the rest of the city. …

“The other aspect of the project will see the captured smog transformed into diamonds. 32% of Beijing’s smog is carbon, which under 30 minutes of pressure can be turned into diamonds.”

Can such wonders be? Read more here.

Photo: AP
Smog in Beijing will be turned into diamonds.

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Video: PBS NewsHour

Not long ago, Julia Griffin of PBS NewsHour interviewed an artist who has turned plastic trash into sculptures with a message.

“JULIA GRIFFIN: Octavia the octopus, Priscilla the parrot fish, and Flash the marlin, all sculptures now on display at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and all made of trash pulled from the Pacific Ocean. …

“Angela Haseltine Pozzi is the lead artist and executive director of Washed Ashore, a nonprofit seeking to educate the public on the plastics polluting the word’s oceans.

“ANGELA HASELTINE POZZI: We create sculptures that can teach people about the problem. And, as an artist, it is a real challenge to use everything that comes up off the beach.

“JULIA GRIFFIN: In six years, Haseltine Pozzi and her team of volunteers have created 66 sculptures from more than 38,000 pounds of debris collected from a stretch of Oregon’s coastline.

“The countless bottle caps, flip-flops and beach toys are just a fraction of the more than 315 billion pounds of plastic estimated to be in the world’s oceans.

“Such plastics not only pose entanglement threats to Marine animals, but are often mistaken for food. …

“JULIA GRIFFIN: As scientists debate how to clean the water, Haseltine Pozzi hopes her sculptures will inspire visitors to curb pollution in the first place.”

The exhibit can be seen at the zoo until September 16, 2016. More at PBS here. Check out the Smithsonian’s site, too.

Photo: Smithsonian

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Pigeons are often associated with pollution underfoot, but in London, pigeons are being harnessed in the fight against another kind of pollution.

Melissa Breyer reports at TreeHugger that the ubiquitous birds are being “outfitted with light-as-a-feather backpacks that collect air pollution data and tweet back live info in an effort to track air quality.

“Putting pigeons to work was the brainstorm of Pierre Duquesnoy, creative director at the global marketing and technology agency DigitasLBi. He entered the curious concept into the #PoweredByTweets competition which was launched last year in conjunction with the London Design Festival.

“Currently there are 120 stations monitoring air pollution in London but they are in fixed locations. ‘That means there are blind spots,’ Duquesnoy tells the Evening Standard. ‘The stations are really accurate but only for the immediate vicinity, so scientists don’t have a clear idea of what is happening elsewhere.’ …

“Pigeon Patrol was one of six winning entries that was built and exhibited – and now, the patrol is actually patrolling. [They will] measure levels of nitrogen dioxide and ozone, the main gases behind harmful urban air pollution …

“For the project Duquesnoy worked with Plume Labs, a tech firm that helps citizens track their exposure to air pollution.” More here.

Video: Newsy

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