Regenerating Biodiversity Is Hard Work In The Best Of Circumstances

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Jon Asgeir Jonsson, who works for a private forestry association, with larch saplings in western Iceland.

It’s never easy being green, but especially millennia after deforestation. Thanks to Henry Fountain and the New York Times:

Vikings Razed the Forests. Can Iceland Regrow Them?

GUNNARSHOLT, Iceland — With his flats of saplings and a red planting tool, Jon Asgeir Jonsson is a foot soldier in the fight to reforest Iceland, working to bring new life to largely barren landscapes.

The country lost most of its trees more than a thousand years ago, when Viking settlers took their axes to the forests that covered one-quarter of the countryside. Now Icelanders would like to get some of those forests back, to improve and stabilize the country’s harsh soils, help agriculture and fight climate change. Continue reading

Real Food, Silicon Valley-Style

Square Roots, on the site of the former Pfizer building in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where produce is grown in 10 shipping containers using only enhanced water and LEDs. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Ruffled feathers of slow food pioneers aside, Kimbal Musk’s projects focus on the link between food and community and his passion to make real food accessible to more people.

Kimbal Musk, 45, got rich working in tech alongside his older brother, Elon. Now he wants to do for food what his brother has done for electric cars and space travel.

Although Mr. Musk has food ventures humming along in Colorado, where he lives, as well as in big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, he has become enamored of places like Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio — parts of the country he believes are the ripest for a revolution in eating and agriculture…

Mr. Musk is promoting a philosophy he calls “real food,” which nourishes the body, the farmer and the planet. It doesn’t sound much different than what writers like Michael Pollan and everyone who has ever helped start a farmers’ market or community garden have preached for years.

But Mr. Musk has big ideas about what the Silicon Valley crowd likes to call the food space, which is as exciting to him as the internet was in 1995. “We’ve never seen this kind of innovation around food,” he said.

In short, he wants to create a network of business, educational and agricultural ventures big enough to swing the nation’s food system back to one based on healthy, local food grown on chemical-free farms.

“Food is this beautiful gift we give each other three times a day,” he’ll often tell a crowd, “but you couldn’t design a worse food system than what we have.”

Continue reading

Britain’s Windfalls

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Thanks to the Guardian for this update on the current state of the art of wind power, and it is good to see Britain in the lead:

Wild is the wind: the resource that could power the world

Wind isn’t just mysterious, destructive and exhilarating – capturing just 2% of it would solve the planet’s energy needs at a stroke. And as the windiest country in Europe, Britain is at the forefront of this green revolution Continue reading

Keep National Parks Safe, Know Your Chocolate

Choc.jpgThe rise in artisanal cacao farming, as we have noted on occasion, can have important implications for conservation. Whether you are a chocoholic or just a casual dabbler in the sweet bi-product of cacao, this report deserves your attention (click on the image to go to the source):

Chocolate is everywhere. It is the afternoon pick-me-up, the sensual indulgence, the accoutrement to seduction. Lovers gift truffles, skiers sip on rich hot chocolate, and connoisseurs savor the tiniest, richest bite of single origin dark chocolate. The ancient Aztecs believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac, and the emperor Montezuma was reported to gorge himself on chocolate in advance of his trysts. Continue reading

Pumas Are Not Such Loners After All

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Adult female with young male coming in (without collar) to her kill. Mark Elbroch/Panthera/Science

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this latest news on one of our favorite species:

Supposedly solitary pumas actually hang out with their fellow big cats quite often, frequently coming together and hissing and snarling before settling down to share a delicious elk carcass.

That’s the startling discovery made by scientists who recently tracked 13 pumas — also called mountain lions or cougars — and set up cameras at kill sites. They recorded dozens of peaceful social interactions between these elusive felines. Continue reading

Empathic Survival Strategy

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Photograph courtesy the author

Finally, the author we link out to with frequency (respectfully and affectionately noting her role in highlighting doom on the horizon), has offered a photo of herself in the setting of one of her stories. It is a cave with a story to tell, and while the story is not one we want to hear it is one we must ponder. That is why we keep linking out to her writing.

This is among her best short offerings, written originally to be a speech, with the creature below featured in compelling manner:

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A Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog. Photograph by Brian Gratwicke / Flickr

The Fate of Earth

Humanity’s survival on this planet seems more uncertain than ever. But what happens when we look at ourselves through other creatures’ eyes?

By 

Yesterday evening, at Manhattan’s New School, the New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert delivered the second annual Jonathan Schell Memorial Lecture on the Fate of the Earth, an event established by the Nation Institute in honor of the late Jonathan Schell, a longtime New Yorker staff writer, and named for “The Fate of the Earth,” a series of articles that Schell wrote for the magazine in 1982 and later published as a book. Kolbert’s remarks have been edited for length. Continue reading

Seeds of Change

Lebanese workers at the seed bank in Terbol. Mr. Shehadeh’s organization, Icarda, moved operations out of Syria after the war broke out. Credit Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

How a Seed Bank, Almost Lost in Syria’s War, Could Help Feed a Warming Planet

TERBOL, Lebanon — Ali Shehadeh, a seed hunter, opened the folders with the greatest of care. Inside each was a carefully dried and pressed seed pod: a sweet clover from Egypt, a wild wheat found only in northern Syria, an ancient variety of bread wheat. He had thousands of these folders stacked neatly in a windowless office, a precious herbarium, containing seeds foraged from across the hot, arid and increasingly inhospitable region known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of farming.

Mr. Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their “wild relatives” from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here. But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy. It has thrown Mr. Shehadeh and his organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, or Icarda, squarely at a messy intersection of food, weather and war.

Icarda, though it received no state funding, was once known as a darling of the Syrian government. Based in Aleppo, its research had helped to make Syria enviably self-sufficient in wheat production. But a drive to produce thirsty crops also drained Syria’s underground water over the years, and it was followed by a crippling drought that helped to fuel the protests that erupted into armed revolt against the government in 2011.Icarda, in turn, became a casualty of the war. By 2014, the fighting drew closer to its headquarters in Aleppo and its sprawling field station in nearby Tal Hadya. Icarda’s trucks were stolen. Generators vanished. Most of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, bred to produce more milk and require less water, were looted and eaten. Mr. Shehadeh and the other scientists eventually sent out what they could — including a few of the sheep — and fled, joining half the country’s population in exile. Continue reading

Environmental Progress Seen Through Bird Specimen Collections

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Grasshopper sparrow specimens from 1907, top, and 1996. Credit Carl Fuldner and Shane DuBay

A fascinating story appears in the Science section of the New York Times this week. It is a reminder of the progress made over the last century in cleaning up the air in North America. Birds are key to the evidential trail in telling the story. The title is one of the most unappealing we have seen in ages, but science is not all sweetness and light:

The Dirty Secrets Saved in Dead Birds’ Feathers

Tucked away in the drawers of natural history museums across America’s Rust Belt, thousands of dead birds carry dirty secrets from America’s polluted past.

The specimens that were put away around the start of the 20th century are far grimier than the ones from more recent decades. And now, climate scientists and historians can thank museum curators for not having tidied them up before storing them. Continue reading

The Business Sense of Doing Good

The Google logo is spelled out in heliostats (mirrors that track the sun and reflect the sunlight onto a central receiving point) during a tour of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert near the California-Nevada border February 13, 2014. The project, a partnership of NRG, BrightSource, Google and Bechtel, is the world’s largest solar thermal facility and uses 347,000 sun-facing mirrors to produce 392 Megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power more than 140,000 homes. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters

The often maligned Calvin Coolidge quote the “Business of America is Business” takes on a positive note when we consider that in the current political climate many corporations are stepping up where the federal administration falls short.

American companies are still investing in renewable energy

After the November elections, many of us in the climate and energy fields were rightfully fearful. What would happen to international agreements to cut greenhouse gases? What would happen to funding for climate research? What would happen to the green energy revolution?

In most instances, Trump is worse than we could have imagined. But in one special area, the president may not matter. That is in the growth of corporate purchasing of renewable energy. It turns out there are factors that even he cannot stop that make choosing renewable energy an easy decision for many companies.

New evidence about the unstoppable renewable energy wave recently came out in a report that was released by Apex Clean Energy and the GreenBiz Group. These groups surveyed corporations to determine their future plans on renewable energy installation and adoption. They wanted to know whether these plans had changed in the past few years and what motivated their decisions to implement renewable energy strategies. The outcome of this survey is available here for people who want to read the entire document.

The groups surveyed 153 major corporations (both public and private), whose combined revenue was in excess of $250 million. Among these companies, 84% are “actively pursuing or considering purchasing renewable energy over the next 5-10 years.” Surprisingly, they found that 43% of the corporations intend to be more aggressive in their pursuit of renewable energy in the next two years. 87% of those actively pursuing renewable energy purchases stated that the election had no impact on their decision.

In fact, 11% were more inclined to purchase renewable energy. Continue reading

Salt Pond Farming

Families in small town, coastal Maine have been fisherfolk for generations, but waters warm and fish patterns change, many are looking at alternative livelihoods. Joe Young, pictured above, is diversifying into oyster and kelp farming in addition to his dockside cafe that where he sells lobster rolls, lobster dinners and, now, his homegrown oysters.

A FISHERMAN TRIES FARMING

COREA, Me. — The boats start up around 3:30 in the morning, stirring the village with the babble of engines before they motor out to sea. They will return hours later, loaded with lobster.

Joe Young’s boat has not gone out lately. Instead, he puts on waders and sloshes into the salt pond behind his house, an inlet where water rushes in and out with the tides. After a lifetime with most of his income tied to what he finds in the sea, this lobsterman — and sixth-generation fisherman — is trying his hand at something new. He is farming oysters. Continue reading

Fall Migration

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Green roof on the entrance building at TNC’s South Cape May Meadows Preserve. (Cape May, New Jersey) Sep 2017 © The Nature Conservancy/Cara Byington

Thanks to Cool Green Science for this story from a migratory birding hotspot:

Give Me Shelter

BY CARA BYINGTON

I’m climbing a somewhat rickety ladder when it occurs to me (not for the first time) that I really shouldn’t be doing this.

It’s September. Fall migration is getting underway. And I am in the very heart of one of birding’s holiest of high holy places: Cape May, New Jersey, that small curve of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay where millions of birds spend at least some part of their lives, year over year, season over season. Continue reading

Thanks, Trees

A female tree lobster specimen. Scientists have learned that the Ball’s Pyramid stick insect and the Lord Howe stick insect are variations of the same species. CreditRohan Cleave/Melbourne Zoo, Australia

Thanks to Joanna Klein and the Science section of the New York Times:

A Stick Insect. A Tree Lobster. Whatever You Call It, It’s Not Extinct

A genetic analysis showed that a stick insect found on another island was the same species as one that had been wiped out by rats on Australia’s Lord Howe Island.

The tree lobster, one of the rarest insects on Earth, has lived a rather twisted life story.

Scientifically known as Dryococelus australis, this six-inch-long stick bug with a lobster-esque exoskeleton once occupied Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand. Continue reading

Being Better For Bees

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Richard Coy inspects one of his hives near Burdette, Ark. Honey production at this location fell by almost half this year — which he attributes to the drifting of weedkiller dicamba to nearby flowering plants. Dan Charles/NPR

By coincidence two days in a row we have encountered important stories related to bees–yesterday’s more inspirational and this one more troubling:

There is one small field on Michael Sullivan’s farm, near the town of Burdette, Ark., that he wishes he could hide from public view.

The field is a disaster. There are soybeans in there, but you could easily overlook them. The field has been overrun by monsters: ferocious-looking plants called pigweeds, as tall as people and bursting with seeds that will come back to haunt any crops that Sullivan tries to grow here for years to come.

“I’m embarrassed to say that we farm that field,” Sullivan says. “We sprayed it numerous times, and it didn’t kill it.”

Pigweeds, which have become resistant to some well-known herbicides, infest a soybean field in northwestern Arkansas. Dan Charles/NPR

These weeds have become resistant to Sullivan’s favorite herbicides, including glyphosate, which goes by the trade name Roundup.

Yet the rest of Sullivan’s farm is beautiful. As farmers like to say, the fields are “clean.” There is not a weed to be seen. Continue reading

Minnesota Bee Atlas & Citizen Science

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Agapostemon virescens, a sweat bee native to Minnesota. Photo © John Flannery / Flickr through a CC BY-SA 2.0 license

We have met and heard of plenty other skeptics of citizen science, and the conversation is always interesting; we of course enjoy hearing of conversion stories. Thanks to Meredith Cornett and Cool Green Science for this:

On Bee-ing

Science is my day job. Has been for more than two decades. So why would I want to also participate on an amateur basis?

For years I scoffed at the very notion of “citizen science.” I dismissed it as cumbersome, unreliable, and yielding data of questionable quality at best. In short, I was sniffy about the whole thing, and kept it at arm’s length. I was not alone. In fact, many of my colleagues dismissed citizen science as mostly a feel-good endeavor. Continue reading

Know The Glow Of Worms & Caves

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A cave of glowworms

It has been quite some time since we linked out to an Ed Yong story, and title notwithstanding this is as good as they come:

The Most Beautiful Death Trap

The ethereal allure of a cave full of glowworms masks a sinister purpose and a weird origin story.

At first, they look like stars. I see them as I gaze upward at the ceiling of a flooded, pitch-black cave—hundreds of blue pinpricks. As my eyes habituate to the darkness, more and more of them resolve, and I see that they are brighter and more densely packed than any starry field. And unlike the night sky, these lights don’t appear as a flat canvas, but as a textured one. Some are clearly closer to us than others and they move relative to each other, so the whole tableau seems to undulate gently as our boat sails beneath it. These lights are not astrological, but entomological. They are produced by insects called glowworms. Continue reading

Unlikely Underdog Progress

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The Burmese star tortoise was declared functionally extinct in the early 2000s, but conservation efforts have helped the species make a comeback. Credit Eleanor Briggs

Thanks to Steph Yin for news out of Burma, of all places:

Slow and Steady, a Tortoise Is Winning Its Race With Extinction

The Burmese star tortoise was almost history.

By the early 2000s, the natives of central Myanmar’s deserts had dwindled to such low counts in the wild that ecologists declared them functionally extinct. Continue reading

Ben & Jerry & Labor

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Ben Cohen, left, and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, in 2010. The company, which is now owned by Unilever, announced an agreement that establishes labor standards for the Vermont dairy farms that are its suppliers. Credit Ade Johnson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

We do not normally feature corporate food conglomerates in these pages, because there is not normally good news to share; but Ben & Jerry are not normal. Good on them for this:

For years, Ben & Jerry’s took steps to make sure that its ice cream did not contain artificial growth hormone. The company also has a self-imposed fee on its greenhouse gas emissions.

What Ben & Jerry’s did not have was a reliable way of ensuring that the dairy farms supplying it with milk were providing humane conditions for their workers, a major issue in an industry where many people work seven days a week for less than minimum wage.

On Tuesday, the ice cream maker, which is based in Vermont, took a big step toward changing that, signing an agreement with a farmworkers’ group that establishes labor standards for the company’s suppliers in the state, and creates an enforcement strategy that encourages workers to speak up about violations. Continue reading

Hunting & Gathering & Happiness

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A few months ago we saw this interview with James Suzman, but delayed linking it until we had an opportunity to get ahold of the book. Our interest was caught by his explanation for why the topic was important:

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The author James Suzman.

…If we judge a civilization’s success by its endurance over time, then the Bushmen are the most successful society in human history. Their experience of modernity offers insight into many aspects of our lives, and clues as to how we might address some big sustainability questions for the future.

And then we neglected to post it until today, reminded about the book by the folks at National Public Radio (USA) in a new interview with the author on the same topic:

There’s an idea percolating up from the anthropology world that may make you rethink what makes you happy.

The idea is not new. It surfaced in the popular consciousness back in the late 1960s and helped to galvanize a growing environmental movement.

And now several books are bringing it back into the limelight.

The idea is simple: Perhaps the American and European way of living isn’t the pinnacle of human existence. Humanity hasn’t been marching — in a linear fashion — toward some promised land. Perhaps, Western society isn’t some magical state in which technology free us from the shackles of acquiring basic needs and allows us to maximize leisure and pleasure. Continue reading