Bacterium With A Purpose

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The bacterium is the first that is known to attack polyurethane. Photograph: imageBroker/Alamy

Thanks to the scientists who found this bacterium:

Scientists find bug that feasts on toxic plastic

Bacterium is able to break down polyurethane, which is widely used but rarely recycled

A bacterium that feeds on toxic plastic has been discovered by scientists. The bug not only breaks the plastic down but uses it as food to power the process. Continue reading

Another Victory Favoring Earth, We Hope

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Demonstrators protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline on the National Mall in Washington in 2017.Credit…Al Drago/The New York Times

In 2017 two separate stories by Lisa Friedman were featured in the same post we titled Victory Favoring Earth, We Hope. The title fits the article she has published today, which gives a bit more hope:

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Wins a Victory in Dakota Access Pipeline Case

WASHINGTON — In a significant victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a federal judge on Wednesday ordered a sweeping new environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois, has been carrying oil for nearly three years and has been contested by environmental groups and Native American tribes who live near it. President Trump sought to keep the project alive.

The ruling by United States District Judge James E. Boasberg found that the pipeline’s “effects on the quality of the human environment are likely to be highly controversial” and that the federal government had not done an adequate job of studying the risks of a major spill or whether the pipeline’s leak detection system was adequate. Continue reading

Wind’s Wins

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A large-scale wind farm in California. The US and China make up almost two-thirds of global growth in wind power. Photograph: Warming Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Every bit of positive news is welcome:

World’s wind power capacity up by fifth after record year

Offshore windfarms and onshore projects in US and China fuel one of strongest years on record

The world’s wind power capacity grew by almost a fifth in 2019 after a year of record growth for offshore windfarms and a boom in onshore projects in the US and China. Continue reading

Next, Clean Ocean Sailing

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Simon Myers, who volunteered on a recent Clean Ocean Sailing expedition with his son, Milo.

The smoke has not cleared, but it is not too early to share thoughts of what will need our attention next:

The Plastic-Hunting Pirates of the Cornish Coast

The Clean Ocean Sailing initiative removes plastic waste from areas of England’s coastline that are inaccessible by foot.

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The Clean Ocean Sailing crew aboard the 112-year-old Annette.

The Cornish coast — with its high cliffs and inlets, lining the peninsula that juts out from England’s southwest corner — has a long association with pirates. Its rocky coves, secret anchorages and long winding creeks have historically been a haunting ground for seafaring scoundrels and salty sea dogs. Continue reading

Cars & Carbon

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A Mini Electric car next to the production line at the BMW plant in Cowley, near Oxford. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

When the smoke clears, we will need to get back to key environmental issues. Thanks to the Guardian for this news, in that regard:

Electric cars produce less CO2 than petrol vehicles, study confirms

Finding will come as boost to governments seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions

Electric vehicles produce less carbon dioxide than petrol cars across the vast majority of the globe – contrary to the claims of some detractors, who have alleged that the CO2 emitted in the production of electricity and their manufacture outweighs the benefits.

The finding is a boost to governments, including the UK, seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions, which will require a massive expansion of the electric car fleet. A similar benefit was found for electric heat pumps. Continue reading

Rites Of Spring

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Photo © Chiot’s Run / Flickr

A seasonal distraction, more than welcome, and we thank Cool Green Science for featuring Ken Keffer’s primer on North American tree-tapping:

Tree Tapping Isn’t Just for Maples

March is tree tapping season across the upper Midwest, New England, and southern Canada. As the cardinals start to sing again in the northwoods, the long-dormant timbers are also responding to the first signs of early spring.

Sap is stored in the roots over winter, but as temperatures begin to rise, it starts flowing through the xylem layer of the tree.

For a number of species, the sap flow becomes a sweet treat and a renewable resource for those working the sugarbush.

Photo © Eamon Mac Mahon

Tapping Throughout History

The exact origins of making maple syrup are a bit of a mystery. It is clear that a number of indigenous tribes in northeastern North America were utilizing this natural resource, and the process predates European settlers. Continue reading

Spring Tidings

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The vernal equinox falls on March 19 nationwide this year. It’s the earliest start to spring since 1896. This photo shows the Earth shortly before the moment of the equinox on March 20, 2019.
GOES-East/NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory

It is extra early, which seems none too soon from our point of view:

Spring Starts Today All Over America, Which Is Weird

Spring begins today in America. Good.

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On the equinox, day and night are roughly equal everywhere on Earth. The date varies because the 365-day calendar doesn’t perfectly line up with the motion of the Earth around the Sun. Encyclopaedia Britannica/Universal Images Group via Getty

Perhaps you are mildly surprised to learn that March 19 is the first day of spring. Perhaps you learned as a child that the spring equinox — when day and night are roughly the same length — occurs on either March 20 or March 21.

Indeed, the equinox has historically fallen on one of those dates. This is the first time in 124 years the first day of spring has occurred on March 19 nationwide, irrespective of time zone — even the graphics on the National Weather Service’s website have yet to catch up with the new reality.

So, how did we end up with an extra-early spring? Continue reading

From The Lab Of Ornithology

Continuing the theme, our thanks to our friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and especially its director, for this message. It came in an email, but click the image above to go to the Lab’s website where the message continues with the resources you will also find below:

Birds Can Be Beacons of Hope

A Message from Our Director

Dear Friend,

March is normally the month when my wife Molly and I head to central Florida where, every year since 1972, I have studied Florida Scrub-Jays. Things are quite different this year, with the entire world hunkering down for an extended fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Even though I’m sticking close to home for now, I am comforted to know the scrub-jays are there, pairing up under the bright Florida sun, lining new nests with palmetto fibers, unperturbed by the tremendous human ordeal around them.

I often talk about the power of birds, but this year they take on an even more powerful meaning. They enliven our days, brighten the trees, serenade in our backyards and city parks, and bestow us with so much joy and hope, all bundled together in feathers and lively personalities.

Like everyone around the world, we at the Cornell Lab are adjusting to new routines. We’ve also spent recent days scouring our brains and our servers for ways to help—in some small way—people who find their daily lives upended.

If you’re a teacher prepping for a new kind of remote class, we’ll send you ideas. A parent or grandparent whose kids are on an unexpected “spring vacation”? They can play our games and learn. Are you a bird watcher with extra time on your hands—or an inveterate traveler now homebound? We can bring birds and bird song into your home—or let you explore the farthest reaches of the world in sounds and images.

A core part of our mission is to help people celebrate the wonder of birds. We do it because you (and we) love birds, are amazed by their powers, and even gain solace from them and a deep, clean breath of hope.

Together we’ll all get through this. In the meantime, whenever you may need a moment of respite, we invite you to explore, enjoy, wonder, replenish, and spark hope with the resources we have to share.

With my best wishes

John W. Fitzpatrick, Director
Cornell Lab of Ornithology Continue reading

Bag Snaggers, Inc., We Hardly Knew Thee

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Photograph from Alamy

You can count on these pages continuing to feature these kinds of stories, that remind us of what still can and must be done, or simply provide a daily dose of charm:

My Old Nemesis: Plastic Bags

On Earth Day, 2019, when New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed a bill banning single-use plastic bags, he said, “You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills, and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage.” It is true that nowadays people do see plastic bags in trees. But they didn’t used to—not because the bags weren’t there but because the people didn’t see them. I believe I am the first person who actually saw bags in trees—that is, noticed them in any official way. Twenty-seven years ago, I wrote a short article for this magazine about plastic bags and other debris in the trees of New York City. Once I started noticing the bags, I couldn’t stop, and I soon passed the affliction on to my friends Bill McClelland and Tim McClelland. Noticing bags in trees changed our lives. Continue reading

Roadside Wildflowers In The UK

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Traffic passing pyramidal orchids and other wildflowers along the A354, near Weymouth, Dorset. Photograph: http://www.pqpictures.co.uk/Alamy

A dose of this kind of news, taken daily, is surely good for mental hygiene:

Coal’s Final Days

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A coal-fired power plant in Neurath, Germany. The country has pledged to phase out coal by 2038. INA FASSBENDER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always for his environmental reporting, and to Yale e360 for this unexpected news that coal is not headed for a renaissance (as some politicians would have us believe):

As Investors and Insurers Back Away, the Economics of Coal Turn Toxic

Coal is declining sharply, as financiers and insurance companies abandon the industry in the face of shrinking demand, pressure from climate campaigners, and competition from cleaner fuels. After years of its predicted demise, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel may finally be on the way out.

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Demolition of the coal-fired Nelson Dewey Generating Station in Cassville, Wisconsin in December 2017. The power plant closed in 2015. NICKI KOHL/TELEGRAPH HERALD VIA AP

Any day now, New York State will be coal-free. Its last coal-fired power station, at Somerset on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, will shut for good as the winter ends. Remember when Donald Trump promised to bring back coal? Well, three years on, coal’s decline is accelerating — in the United States and worldwide. Continue reading

Darn Charm

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Thanks to Steven Kurutz, whose first two appearances in our pages (6 and 4 years ago, respectively) prepared us well for this charming news:

Now Is When We All Learn to Darn Our Socks Again

“Visible mending” has been taken up by those who want to protest fast fashion and disposable culture. It’s also thrifty.

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Only a few generations ago, socks were routinely darned, sweaters mended and pants patched. You could buy a sewing kit at any drugstore. Knowing how to use it was a mark of good housekeeping.

Kate Sekules, 58, remembers that world, in which the act of repairing clothes was integral to wearing them. “My mother was a dressmaker to the end of her life,” said Ms. Sekules, who grew up in England. “My mother just mended as a matter of course.”

Ms. Sekules has kept up that thrifty tradition. She started one of the earliest secondhand online clothing exchanges, Refashioner. She buys all of her clothes vintage and mends them all, including her husband’s moth-eaten sweaters. Continue reading

Solar Canoe As Protest

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Sunkirum, one of the solar-powered canoes, sails on the Pastaza river. Photograph: Pablo Albarenga

Thanks to the Guardian, and specifically to Francesc Badia i Dalmases in Kapawi, Ecuador, for this story:

Here comes the sun canoe, as Amazonians take on Big Oil

Ecuadorian indigenous groups hope innovation will reduce amount of oil taken from forest only to be brought back as pollution

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Nantu and his colleagues check the state of a canoe’s solar panels. Photograph: Pablo Albarenga

A canoe slides noiselessly upstream through a landscape of luminous bright clouds reflected in the water. A team of young indigenous people are onboard.

Such vessels are an essential and ubiquitous part of life in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but this one boasts a hugely symbolic difference from its predecessors. It is powered by the sun.

The nine members of the Achuar indigenous group on board are returning home after learning about solar power and installation. It is a technological development they hope to use in their battle with a more traditional power source that threatens their very existence. Oil. Continue reading

A Bright Spot On The Horizon

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Some times those bright spots on the horizon are more welcome than they might merit, and today we will take what we can get:

Wind and solar plants will soon be cheaper than coal in all big markets around world, analysis finds

Report raises fresh doubt about viability of Australia’s thermal coal export industry

Building new wind and solar plants will soon be cheaper in every major market across the globe than running existing coal-fired power stations, according to a new report that raises fresh doubt about the medium-term viability of Australia’s $26bn thermal coal export industry. Continue reading

Let Rem Koolhaas Take Your Mind Off Other Things

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Rem Koolhaas’s new show tells a story that stretches from ancient Rome and China to the environmental, existential crisis of the present. Photograph by Laurian Ghinitoiu / Courtesy AMO

Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for the welcome distraction:

Rem Koolhaas’s Journey to the Countryside

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One morning last week, the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas was slowly turning in place in the center of the Guggenheim Museum’s rotunda, his face tilted up toward the sun-flooded glass roof. Suspended above his bald head was a miniature yellow submarine with a long needle at one end, like a bayonet. The device, Koolhaas explained, was something Australians developed to exterminate starfish. “Because of global warming, they are proliferating to the extent that they need to be killed, to protect the great barrier reef,” Koolhaas said. “The sub injects them with poison.” He smiled slyly. “Organic poison.” Continue reading

Scent & Memory

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Illustration by James Taylor

Thanks to Colleen Walsh and the Harvard Gazette for this:

What the nose knows

Experts discuss the science of smell and how scent, emotion, and memory are intertwined — and exploited

New Activities For Community Developments

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This trend in real estate development is a breath of fresh air:

Taking the Golf Out of Golf Communities

Around the country, planned developments are adapting and reinventing in order to appeal to a wider range of buyers.

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Hilton Head Plantation is a gated golf community on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

MacDonald Highlands is a master-planned community of less than 1,000 units in Henderson, Nev., a wealthy suburb of Las Vegas within squinting distance of the Strip. For years, its main selling point was DragonRidge Country Club, a private 18-hole golf course sculpted out of the desert foothills, with emerald fairways that wind past multi-million-dollar homes.

But lately, the property’s owner, Rich MacDonald, has had more on his mind than golf.

Mr. MacDonald opened the club in 2001, sold it in 2014 and bought it back in 2016. When he did, he said: “I wanted to make sure we have the equivalent of a cruise director. Someone who does fun things, interesting events. We’ve had to adapt quite a bit because the social aspect seems to be the main focus for new residents.”

At existing golf communities around the country, a similar story of adaptation and reinvention is playing out. Continue reading

Musical Influences

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ENZO PÉRÈS-LABOURDETTE / YALE E360

It is commonplace belief that music from our youth influences our taste in music for the rest of life, and that no music ever displaces the favorite music of our late teens and early twenties (this is lore, admittedly, not science), so it makes sense that this same period of music acquisition can influence much more:

How Hip Hop Can Bring Green Issues to Communities of Color

The environmental movement has largely failed to connect with people of color and marginalized urban communities. By confronting issues from contaminated water to climate change, hip hop music can help bridge that divide and bring home the realities of environmental injustice.

When I was diversity director at North Carolina State University, part of my job was to recruit young people — often from communities of color — into the College of Natural Resources. It could be a struggle; these were talented and creative kids, but often they didn’t see how environmental or sustainability issues were relevant to their lives. Continue reading