Cycling In The Land Of Cyclists

The eighteen million residents of Holland own, in total, more than twenty-two million bicycles. Photograph by Martin Parr / Magnum

Whether or not you are a cyclist (as I am), whether or not you have cyclist friends in Holland (as I do), you may appreciate the experience of this writer as much as one of my Dutch cycling friends did (he read it yesterday while on a cycling vacation in Russia and gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up):

How I Learned to Cycle Like a Dutchman

In the bike-friendly Netherlands, cyclists speed down the road without fearing cars. For an American, the prospect is thrilling—and terrifying.

Where are our helmets?” my daughter Harper asked. We were standing outside a cycle shop in the Dutch city of Delft, along with Harper’s older sister, Lyra, and my wife, Alia.

“We didn’t buy any,” I replied. Along the dark green Wijnhaven canal, confident Dutchmen and Dutchwomen whizzed around, their blond heads exposed to the soft northern sun. “In the Netherlands, only tourists wear helmets.” Continue reading

From Primatologist To Crusader

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Guerin Blask for The New York Times

We became fans when I was in graduate school, and have never stopped admiring her, so this interview is an especially easy read:

Jane Goodall Keeps Going, With a Lot of Hope (and a Bit of Whiskey)

During her girlhood, Tarzan was her role model. When she realized how chimpanzee habitats were being destroyed, she turned into a crusader. At 85, she’s still preaching.

Jane Goodall nursed a glass of neat Irish whiskey. It was the end of a long day of public appearances, and her voice was giving out.

That’s what Ms. Goodall does these days. She talks. To anyone who will listen. To children, chief executives and politicians. Her message is always the same: The forests are disappearing. The animals are going quiet. We’re running out of time. Continue reading

In The Spirit Of These Times

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Illustration by Leonardo Santamaria

The last time Jonathan Franzen appeared in our pages he was watching birds, which he has a habit of doing. But he has the power of the pen, more than most, to wield on topics related to the environment. At the core of his argument in this essay below he makes a point that has been the point of this platform since it started: since major environmental issues are difficult if not impossible for individuals to effect change on, we must each carry out our small, singular deeds. Highlighting good acts is an important element of that.

What If We Stopped Pretending?

The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.

“There is infinite hope,” Kafka tells us, “only not for us.” This is a fittingly mystical epigram from a writer whose characters strive for ostensibly reachable goals and, tragically or amusingly, never manage to get any closer to them. But it seems to me, in our rapidly darkening world, that the converse of Kafka’s quip is equally true: There is no hope, except for us. Continue reading

When Andeans Dream Of Electric Buses

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An electric bus in service on the streets of Medellín, Colombia. METRO DE MEDELLÍN

Happy to see our neighbors to the south taking the lead in greening public transportation:

An Increasingly Urbanized Latin America Turns to Electric Buses

From Colombia to Argentina, major cities in Latin America are starting to adopt electric bus fleets. In a region with the highest use of buses per person globally, officials believe the transition will help meet climate targets, cut fuel costs, and improve air quality.

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Medellín will have 65 electric buses in service by the end of the year, making it the second-largest electric bus fleet in Latin America. MARIA GALLUCCI/YALE E360

In Medellín, Colombia, passengers cram aboard a battery-powered bus during the morning commute. Inside, the vehicle is a respite from the crush of cars, taxis, and motorcycles winding through traffic outside. The driver, Robinson López Rivera, steers the bus up a steep ramp, revealing views of hillsides covered with rooftops of tile and tin. The bus dashboard indicates that the batteries are mostly charged, with enough power to last through the evening rush hour.

“It’s a little smoother and more comfortable to drive. And there’s hardly any noise,” López Rivera says from behind the wheel. He gently brakes as a street vendor pushes a fruit cart across the dedicated bus lane. At night, the bus will return to a parking lot by the airport, recharging its 360-kilowatt battery pack while the city sleeps.

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An electric bus charging terminal in Santiago, Chile, which draws power primarily from solar panels. ENEL X

The other 77 buses in the city’s bus rapid transit system, called Metroplús, run on natural gas and move about 251,000 passengers daily. Thousands more privately owned coaches and minibuses burn diesel as they traverse the sprawling metropolitan area of 3.7 million people, with older models leaving a trail of sour-smelling smoke. Faced with chronic air pollution and concerns about climate change, Medellín is now trying to move quickly to electrify its entire mass transit network. Continue reading

If You Must Bet, Bet On This

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Woodland Trust has not been mentioned in these pages before, surprisingly. Its origins and its mission make us feel at home:

Stand up for trees

We want to see a UK rich in native woods and trees, for people and wildlife.

But we can’t achieve our vision without you.

And its accomplishments are awesome:

43,069,424
trees planted,
1089 woods saved,
34,075 hectares of ancient
woodland under
restoration.

And now it is possible to place a bet on their behalf in a fun contest:

Now is your chance to vote for your favourite trees in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as we reveal the shortlists in our Tree of the Year contest. Continue reading

Craft, Creativity & Visual Pleasure

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Iterations, from left, of the New Craftmen’s Brodgar chair (an unfinished lounge chair and a dining chair) next to traditional chairs on Mainland, Orkney. Sophie Gerrard

Deborah Needleman offers a short and sweet journey to a place, and with people, who I can relate to as we proceed to stock and open the Authentica shops in Costa Rica:

The Windswept Scottish Islands Producing Beautiful Artisanal Goods

One London gallery is determined to continue the tradition embraced for centuries by the Orkney chain.

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The New Craftsmen artists during their Orkney residency, Gareth Neal (far left), O’Sullivan (far right) and Butcher (second from left) with the local Orkney furniture maker Kevin Gauld (second from right). Sophie Gerrard

LAST MAY, THREE England-based craftspeople — the basket makers Mary Butcher and Annemarie O’Sullivan and the furniture maker and designer Gareth Neal — were sent by their London gallery, the New Craftsmen, for a weeklong residency in Orkney, a chain of about 70 small islands off the northern coast of Scotland. They explored Mainland, Orkney’s largest island, as well as North Ronaldsay, a three-and-a-half mile spit of land (population approximately 50) rich in farmland, marram grass, seaweed-eating sheep and Neolithic ruins. They also met with the Orcadian furniture maker Kevin Gauld and the sculptor Frances Pelly, both of whose work is deeply bound up with the islands’ history and landscape.

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Gathered Orkney straw ready to be woven in Gauld’s workshop. Sophie Gerrard

The New Craftsmen’s co-founder and creative director, Catherine Lock — who travels across Britain in search of potters, textile designers and other artisans to highlight at her Mayfair showroom — has long been inspired by Orkney’s culture, and commissioned the first piece she sold at the gallery, a collaboration between Gauld and Neal, on the archipelago seven years ago. Since then, the pair’s beautifully austere straw Brodgar chair has been a consistent best seller, with more demand than Gauld can answer.

09tmag-orkneys-slide-WJT0-jumbo.jpgBefore craft was called craft, when it was just the stuff people made from what was around in order to get by, objects were indivisible from their provenance. And in a place as remote as the Orkney Islands, that connection is still strong — but the link to the outside marketplace less so. Lock invited these three makers to “see how they might channel the spirit of this place through objects.” The goal of the project is the creation of new work — both collaborations and individual pieces — that express the spirit and traditions of Orkney, exposing it to a larger global audience while preserving and reinvigorating the distinctive skills found there.

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Local seaweed gathered and bundled by the basket weavers Annemarie O’Sullivan and Mary Butcher. Sophie Gerrard

One can understand a place by what its people make. Because trees are scarce here, Orcadians historically had to rely on driftwood and shipwrecks for timber; you can still find stone houses with roofs made of upturned old boats. The islands are flush with heather, peat, seaweed and sandstone, but locals have a special relationship with straw, which they have long used for everything from roofing and bedding to shelving, rainwear and furniture. Continue reading

Resilient Forests & Reduced Fossil Fuel Dependency

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A Rough Terrain Container Handler, or RTCH, moves a shipping container full of about 40,000 pounds of wood chips to a nearby railcar. Ryan Heinsius/KNAU

National Public Radio (USA) shares a story that links forest management techniques in Arizona to fossil fuel use-reduction in Korea:

Chip-And-Ship Forest Clearing May Help Prevent Wildfire Disasters

A huge mechanical claw scoops up several ponderosa pine logs and feeds them into an industrial chipper. Thousands of wood chunks are then blasted into a large shipping container.

“It goes anywhere from one to four to three up to seven small ones can just kind of throw in that little jaws there,” explains Jeff Halbrook, a research associate with Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute. Today he’s overseeing what’s fondly known as the chip-and-ship pilot project about 20 minutes west of Flagstaff.

These trees being fed into the chipper were recently cut from the nearby Coconino National Forest. A crew of six has been working for days to pack the shipping containers as tightly as possible, stuffing each one with about 40,000 pounds of chipped wood. Then another machine hoists the container onto a nearby railcar. In about two weeks, nearly 60 containers will arrive at a port in South Korea. Continue reading

Camera Trap Treasure

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A black bear mother with three cubs. Photo © TNC

Camera traps have proven valuable in the work we have been doing in Belize, India and elsewhere in the wilderness areas of the developing world. But equally important are the photos captured in areas closer to urban settlements. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s publication of these photos with the article below:

As a Nature Conservancy forester in Pennsylvania, Mike Eckley spends a lot of time assessing the health of woodlands. That means he spends as much time thinking about white-tailed deer as he does trees.

Many conservation biologists consider over-abundant deer to be an even bigger threat to eastern forests than climate change. Deer can fundamentally change the forest ecosystem, threatening everything from rare wildflowers to migratory songbirds. These deer also can cause deadly vehicle collisions, increase risk of Lyme disease, and cause significant agricultural and property damage.

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Two white-tailed deer boxing. Photo © TNC

Eckley educates hunting clubs and landowners on deer management issues, and recently co-edited a book on the topic. He also works to make sure the deer herd is healthy on Conservancy projects like the West Branch Forest Preserve, a 3,000-acre preserve in north central Pennsylvania. Continue reading

Farming Energy & Food Simultaneously

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Crops grow under solar panels at the Biosphere 2 Agrivoltaics Learning Lab operated by the University of Arizona, north of Tucson. Patrick Murphy/University of Arizona

When we think of farming, we know sunlight is important, but too much sun is not normally a good thing. For solar, no such thing as too much sunlight–the more the better. But counterintuitive though it may be, here is a story about overlapping advantages of sunlight for farming and solar energy production:

The Best Place for Harvesting Solar Energy Is Not Where I Expected It to Be

And the same land can produce loads of food and electricity simultaneously.

Even after a boom in recent years, solar energy delivers less than 2 percent of power generation to the US electrical grid. But if we’re going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the sun’s contribution is going to have to ramp up dramatically. Where to put all the solar panels? You might envision vast solar farms stretching across the sun-scorched barren lands of the Southwest. But according to two recent papers—one from Oregon and Utah researchers, another from a team centered at the University of Arizona—a much different kind of landscape makes the most sense for harvesting solar power: the land currently occupied by food farms.

That’s because the technology that drives solar power—photovoltaic (PV) panels made of silicon that convert light photons directly into electricity—works most efficiently under a specific set of conditions. Most important for this power, of course, is abundant sunlight, which is why deserts make tempting sites for solar energy production. But air temperature is important, too. Above the threshold of 78°F, the hotter it gets outside, the less efficient PV panels are at converting sunlight to electricity. And that’s why blazing-hot deserts pose some problems for solar panels. Continue reading

Tirana’s Time Warp Causes Creativity

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Rows of acacia trees and ceruja vines at Uka Farm, with a view of Dajti Mountain National Park in the distance. Federico Ciamei

Ten years ago I was in Tirana and if I squinted I might have seen this article coming. I was working on a project for the United Nations Development Programme, focused on the Prespa Lakes Basin, and the visits in Tirana were like a time warp. In a good way, as it is now more easy to see:

The City Poised to Become Europe’s Next Affordable Creative Haven

In the Albanian capital of Tirana, the country’s strange history and bright future collide.

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The paneled facade of the Plaza Tirana. Federico Ciamei

Over the past five years, Albania has been discovered by travelers as that rare thing: a largely unexplored corner of Europe (one with some 265 miles of coastline). The small Balkan country sits just across the Adriatic and Ionian seas from Italy’s heel and a mere 45-minute ferry ride away from the Greek island of Corfu. It’s recently gotten its first high-end waterside resorts, and as the beach town of Sarande and the seaside city of Vlore have become more comfortable, so too has Tirana — the country’s capital, about 22 miles inland with a population of over half a million — grown more cosmopolitan, with new restaurants, shops and galleries joining the almost surrealist pastiche of testaments to the city’s past. For a good example of the way eras collide in Tirana, just visit Skanderbeg Square, recently renovated with new fountains and rosy granite paving, and home to an 18th-century mosque and minaret, a domed Albanian Orthodox church opened in 2012, a set of government buildings that echo the fascist architecture of Mussolini’s Italy and a Brutalist monolith that houses the National Historical Museum.

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A sun-dappled staircase at the Plaza Tirana leads to the hotel’s breakfast room. Federico Ciamei

Initially settled by Illyrian and Greek tribes during ancient times, Albania spent over four centuries as part of the Ottoman Empire. After 1912, it became a fascist-leaning monarchy, and then, in the wake of World War II, a Communist state ruled by the infamous dictator Enver Hoxha. In 1991, a full year behind many of its Eastern Bloc neighbors, the country saw its first democratic elections, as well as murmurings of a cultural awakening. Tirana may not have a robust avant-garde scene, but it does have a gritty, iconoclastic edge — the Pyramid, a large monument to Hoxha in the center of town, is now popular with skateboarders — and a joie de vivre that’s enticed many former expats. “There’s so much potential,” says Flori Uka, a local winemaker who trained in northeastern Italy and now specializes in vintages made from organic Kallmet grapes grown just outside the city. “We were isolated for so long, but today it’s possible for creative people to do what they love. The place has become very receptive to the new.” Continue reading