Getting a Bigger Bang Out of Plastic

Plastic has been on our radar for years, both as an environmental scourge and a raw material for the rising recycle and “upcycle” economy.  Finding these creative uses for an ubiquitous waste material around the world has been inspiring, to say the least.

We hadn’t been familiar with the Precious Plastic model until we met the wonderful women from the Wagát Upcycling Lab. We applaud the community ethos of open source plans to address a global crisis.

Big Bang, Indeed!

Functioning Ecosystems Are Key To Our Future

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“How do we feed the nine billion?” Fiennes said. “Through functioning ecosystems.” Photograph by Siân Davey for The New Yorker

The title of this post, paraphrasing the subject of the profile below, states the obvious. Sometimes, that must be. Thank you, Sam Knight:

CAN FARMING MAKE SPACE FOR NATURE?

After Brexit, the obsessions of Jake Fiennes could change how Britain uses its land.

One day last summer, Jake Fiennes was lost in a cloud of butterflies. He was on a woodland path near Holkham Beach, on the north coast of Norfolk. Every decade or so, ten million painted-lady butterflies, which are orange, black, and white, migrate to Britain from tropical Africa. The hot summer meant that it was a bumper year for native species, too, and the painted ladies mingled with red admirals, peacocks, and common blues, feeding on bushes set back a few yards from the path. “Just sat in a haze of flittering, fluttering butterflies,” Fiennes told me later. “I was in awe. These flowers were just exploding.” Continue reading

Heroics & Urban Birds

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A black kite, a carnivorous scavenger, flying over the Ghazipur area of New Delhi. Black kites are a common sight in the city, but are often fatally injured by the flying of paper kites.

We will take heroics wherever we can find them:

Meet the Bird Medics of New Delhi

Two brothers have given everything to treat raptors injured by a popular pastime.

By Photographs by 

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Kite-flying became a symbol of national pride after India gained independence from Britain in 1947.

NEW DELHI — Sitting in his basement, below the crowded dirt roads of Wazirabad village, Mohammad Saud leaned over the body of an injured black kite.

The room was cramped, its walls chipping blue paint, the noise from the streets above drowned out by the whir of a fan. Mr. Saud stared at the bird in front of him for a couple of seconds, then gently folded its wing over with a gloved hand. At least two bones, four tendons and two muscles had been snapped. The bird’s head tilted back limply, eyes cloudy. Mr. Saud adjusted his glasses with the crook of his elbow, then stated the obvious: “This is a gone case. Nothing can be done.”

Mr. Saud placed the kite back into a thin cardboard box. As he did so, Salik Rehman, a young employee of Mr. Saud, reached into a different cardboard box and pulled out another black kite. This bird’s right wing was wrapped in a gauze bandage stained with dried blood and pus. Mr. Saud examined it briefly. Another gone case, he concluded; it would have to be euthanized. Continue reading

Please Let Your Dandelions Bolt

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Each dandelion head has up to 100 individual flowers. Photograph: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

So many challenges, so many unanswered questions about why bee colonies are collapsing. In the realm of how to help, the UK has a new notion:

Help bees by not mowing dandelions, gardeners told

Plants provide key food source for pollinators as they come out of hibernation

Gardeners should avoid mowing over dandelions on their lawn if they want to help bees, according to the new president of the British Ecological Society.

Dandelions – which will start flowering in the UK this month – provide a valuable food source for early pollinators coming out of hibernation, including solitary bees, honey bees and hoverflies.

Each dandelion head contains up to 100 individual flowers, known as florets, which contain nectar and pollen. There are 240 species of dandelion in the UK. Continue reading

Invasive Python Hunting Season

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A Florida Wildlife Commission employee captures a Burmese python during the kickoff event for the Florida Python Challenge in Sunrise, Florida, on 10 January. Photograph: Joe Cavaretta/AP

We first started paying attention to invasive species here. Since then, every year, we pay more and more attention, especially to the pythons in the Everglades. It is that time of year:

Florida hunters capture more than 80 giant snakes in Python Bowl

Annual challenge encourages the public to catch as many of the invasive giant snakes that decimate native wildlife as possible

Most visitors to the mosquito-infested swamps of the Florida Everglades are happy to leave again quickly: a half-hour airboat ride and photograph of a basking alligator is usually enough to satisfy the curiosity of any tourist keen to return to the theme parks and beaches – or sports events – of the sunshine state’s more traditional attractions. Continue reading

Citizen Science & Northern Lights

We believe citizen science, in all its forms, is one of the latest greatest innovations of mankind, and here is one more example:

A New Form Of Northern Lights Discovered In Finland – By Amateur Sky Watchers

People in northern climes have long gazed at the wonder that is the aurora borealis: the northern lights.

Those celestial streaks of light and color are often seen on clear nights in Finland, where they’re so admired that a Finnish-language Facebook group dedicated to finding and photographing them has more than 11,000 members.

There aurora aficionados gather to discuss subjects like space weather forecasts and the best equipment to capture the northern lights. Continue reading

Weeds Are Not Automatically Enemies

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Credit: NPR

We missed this when it was first posted, but on this topic never too late to share:

VIDEO: Dandelions Aren’t Just Weeds. You Can Fry Them, Too

Some may think of dandelions as just unwanted weeds, but expert forager and nutritionist Debbie Naha says “a weed is just a plant growing where you don’t want it to.”

Naha loves to collect and eat dandelions when they bloom in the spring and again in early fall, when the days begin to shorten.

Some may also think of dandelions as those white puffballs whose seeds you can blow away like a candle on a birthday cake. The puffball is also considered a dandelion — it’s what the yellow flower matures into after a few days. But these aren’t especially good to eat. Continue reading

Listen To Workers, Especially On This Topic

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Amazon workers lead a walk out to demand that leaders take action on climate change in September. Photograph: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

We hope someone in the upper ranks of Amazon is listening:

Hundreds of workers defy Amazon rules to protest company’s climate failures

Employees ‘needed to stand up for what’s right’ despite policy barring workers from speaking about business

Hundreds of Amazon employees defied corporate policy to publicly criticize the company for failing to meet its “moral responsibility” in the climate crisis.

More than 340 tech workers at Amazon used the hashtag #AMZNSpeakOut in public statements that condemn the company for not taking sufficient action on the climate crisis. Continue reading

Albatrosses Tracking Fishing Vessels

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Albatrosses tracking fishing vessels found that 28 percent of ships had turned off their equipment, possibly fishing without a license or transferring illegal catches onto cargo vessels. Alexandre Corbeau

Thanks to Katherine Kornei, who we are linking to for the first time, for some great science writing:

They’re Stealthy at Sea, but They Can’t Hide From the Albatross

Researchers outfitted 169 seabirds with radar detectors to pinpoint vessels that had turned off their transponders.

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Researchers tagged an adult wandering albatross. Julien Collet

There’s a lot of ocean out there, and boats engaging in illegal fishing or human trafficking have good reason to hide.

But even the stealthiest vessels — the ones that turn off their transponders — aren’t completely invisible: Albatrosses, outfitted with radar detectors, can spot them, new research has shown. And a lot of ships may be trying to disappear. Roughly a third of vessels in the Southern Indian Ocean were not broadcasting their whereabouts, the bird patrol revealed. Continue reading

Biodiverse Forests Are Better For So Many Reasons

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A tiger in Nagarhole National Park, India. Photo © Chethan Ramesh/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Sometimes the headlines for scientific findings seem to state the obvious; but then again, these days nothing is obvious, nor can be taken for granted:

Biodiverse Forests Capture Carbon Better Than Plantations

Plantations and natural forest regeneration are leading strategies for enhancing carbon sequestration and using nature to fight climate change. New science shows that diverse natural forests with a mix of tree species provide more stable and reliable carbon capture than monoculture plantations in the long run.

The Gist

Published in Environmental Research Letters, the study focused on India’s Western Ghats Mountains, one of 36 global biodiversity hotspots. The mountains are home to several wildlife reserves that were once colonial teak and eucalyptus plantations, allowing researchers to compare the carbon sequestration of both long-lived monoculture plantations and neighboring native forest. Continue reading

Ugly, Not Deadly

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Photo: Vangelis Aragiannis/Alamy

We do not like looking at them. They disrupt many otherwise pristine views of nature, in the most surprising places. And so the thought of them being dangerous to birds would be an easy stretch of the imagination. Thanks to Audubon for the clarification, that their danger to birds is just an act of imagination:

No, 5G Radio Waves Do Not Kill Birds

Here’s the truth behind a Facebook falsehood spreading across the internet.

On the internet, there is often a fine line between a healthy skepticism of new technologies and blatant misinformation. The recent claim that the radio waves from 5G cellular communication towers are causing mass bird die-offs is a perfect example of just how thin that line can be—and how quickly falsehoods can spread across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even in the comments of Audubon magazine’s stories.

The origin of this claim is as head-spinning as it is instructive, so let’s untangle the knot: Does 5G really kill birds, and if not, why are so many people shouting about it online? Continue reading

Perils of Posing

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The couple cynically stage-managed their Western exploits for propaganda value.
Illustration by Christian Northeast. Source images from Chronicle / Alamy (woman); Bettmann / Getty (man)

Adam Gopnik’s book review illustrates the roots of today’s Instagram culture, and the perils of posing:

Pioneers of American Publicity

How John and Jessie Frémont explored the frontiers of legend-making.

Legendary development can happen with astonishing speed after a life is past. Gore Vidal, in his 1992 novel, “Live from Golgotha,” made sport of the notion of television coverage of the Crucifixion, as the kind of thing that would happen only in contemporary America, but in truth Jesus’ body was hardly cold, or gone, before the apostle Paul, in a single generation, had made the desert rebbe into a demigod. The special American contribution to legend-making has not been speed so much as absolute simultaneity, with the life and the legend developing together. The American frontier, the Wild West, was not burnished and made epic in memory. It was made epic even as its very brief life was taking place. Buffalo Bill was only twenty-three when dime novels about him began to appear in New York, and early accounts of Billy the Kid’s life read “like a press agent’s yarn,” as one biographer says, because they were. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were robbing banks and posing for mock formal photographs all at the same time. This national truth remains constant even in our own time. The Apollo missions were genuine acts of daring—and were also, as everyone knew at the time, scripted television programming, with well-wrought lines delivered live. Continue reading

Small Steps Could Lead to Big Impacts

A Chinese labourer sorting out plastic bottles on the outskirt of Beijing. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

With over a billion consumers, even with exemptions these bans will hopefully have relevant impacts. Thanks once again to the Guardian for bringing these actions to our attention.

China moves to phase out single-use plastics

Plastic bags to be banned in all major cities by end of 2020, says state planner

China is stepping up restrictions on the production, sale and use of single-use plastic products, according to the state planner, as it seeks to tackle one of the country’s biggest environmental problems.

Vast amounts of untreated plastic waste are buried in landfills or dumped in rivers. The United Nations has identified single-use plastics as one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges.

The national development and reform commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, which issued the policy, said plastic bags would be banned in all of China’s major cities by the end of 2020 and banned in all cities and towns in 2022. Markets selling fresh produce will be exempt from the ban until 2025. Continue reading

Another Look At Blackrock

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In response to mounting public pressure, Larry Fink, the C.E.O. of BlackRock, announced, in a letter to investors, that the firm will make some modest policy changes related to climate change.
Photograph by Damon Winter / NYT / Redux

One of the authors, also a prolific activist, who we cite most frequently has shared his view on the news we linked to earlier this last week:

Citing Climate Change, BlackRock Will Start Moving Away from Fossil Fuels

By Bill McKibben

If you felt the earth tremble a little bit in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, it was likely caused by the sheer heft of vast amounts of money starting to shift. “Seismic” is the only word to describe the recent decision of the asset-management firm BlackRock to acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis and begin (emphasis on begin) to start redirecting its investments.

By one estimate, there’s about eighty trillion dollars of money on the planet. If that’s correct, then BlackRock’s holding of seven trillion dollars means that nearly a dime of every dollar rests in its digital files, mostly in the form of stocks it invests in for pension funds and the like. So when BlackRock’s C.E.O., Larry Fink, devoted his annual letter to investors to explaining that climate change has now put us “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” it marked a watershed moment in climate history. Continue reading

The Largest Environmental Change You Never Heard Of

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A 3-D model of the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth. Most of what we know about its topography has been gathered by sonar. Only three crewed expeditions have reached the bottom. (Data Design Co)

Our goal of highlighting stories mostly about solutions to environmental issues is being challenged more and more, here being the latest example:

History’s Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin

It’s underwater—and the consequences are unimaginable.

Unless you are given to chronic anxiety or suffer from nihilistic despair, you probably haven’t spent much time contemplating the bottom of the ocean. Many people imagine the seabed to be a vast expanse of sand, but it’s a jagged and dynamic landscape with as much variation as any place onshore. Mountains surge from underwater plains, canyons slice miles deep, hot springs billow through fissures in rock, and streams of heavy brine ooze down hillsides, pooling into undersea lakes.

These peaks and valleys are laced with most of the same minerals found on land. Continue reading

The Tragedy Of The Commons, Rhino Edition

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Martin Saavedra

It is a brutal story, and we thank Cathleen O’Grady for telling us about The Price of Protecting Rhinos in the long form narrative such a complex topic deserves:

Conservation has become a war, and park rangers and poachers are the soldiers.

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Martin Saavedra

Hsst!” hisses Charles Myeni. “Leave space!” Silently, the men in his anti-poaching unit spread out as they move through the bush in single file, leaving a few feet between them.

Myeni explains his command to me: If a rhinoceros poacher attacks us and we’re all neatly squished together in a line, he whispers, they “can take us all out, one-one-one-one. We’re all gonna die.”

Is he serious? His sardonic half smile is difficult to read. He may just be trying to scare me, the city-dwelling white girl tagging along on his morning patrol through South Africa’s Somkhanda Game Reserve. But I still stick as closely as I can to him and his automatic rifle. Continue reading

What’s New In Taliabu?

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James Eaton/Birdtour Asia

Thanks to Karen Weintraub for sharing the rare story that our bird-oriented readers will appreciate as breaking news:

Trove of New Bird Species Found on Remote Indonesian Islands

Researchers found 10 new species and subspecies of songbirds off the coast of Sulawesi, with distinct songs and genetics from known birds.

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A Togian jungle-flycatcher, one of several new bird species found in the Wallacean islands off Indonesia’s east coast. James Eaton/Birdtour Asia

One day in 2009, Frank Rheindt was wandering up a forested mountainside on an Indonesian island when the skies opened up. He had spent months planning this trip, days finding a charter boat that would carry him to this remote place, and hours plodding uphill, but the local tour guides insisted that the rain would make the search impossible. Continue reading

Investing With Climate Change In Mind Is The Right Thing To Do

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Damon Winter/The New York Times

He may be late, but better that versus never. Investing with consideration for the environment seemed obvious long ago to some, but not to the decision-makers who most count–those whose investment decisions impact generations to come. Presumably, from the size of fund he manages, one of the most respected investors has decided to do the right thing as best he can, and that may be huge:

BlackRock Will Put Climate Change at Center of Investment Strategy

In his influential annual letter to chief executives, Larry Fink said his firm would avoid investments in companies that “present a high sustainability-related risk.”

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Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Laurence D. Fink, the founder and chief executive of BlackRock, plans to announce Tuesday that his firm will make investment decisions with environmental sustainability as a core goal.

BlackRock is the largest in its field, with nearly $7 trillion under management, and this move will fundamentally shift its investing policy — and could reshape how corporate America does business and put pressure on other large money managers to follow suit. Continue reading

The Trees That May Survive Humanity

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Bristlecone pines have the look of survivors, not conquerors. Fittingly, they found fame during the Cold War, when atomic tests were taking place not far off, in the Nevada desert. Bristlecones are post-apocalyptic trees, sci-fi trees. Photograph by John Chiara for The New Yorker

Alex Ross mainly writes about music, but when he sets his sights on other important topics his musicality illuminates in a powerful way:

The Past and the Future of the Earth’s Oldest Trees

Bristlecone pines have survived various catastrophes over the millennia, and they may survive humanity.

About forty-five hundred years ago, not long after the completion of the Great Pyramid at Giza, a seed of Pinus longaeva, the Great Basin bristlecone pine, landed on a steep slope in what are now known as the White Mountains, in eastern California. The seed may have travelled there on a gust of wind, its flight aided by a winglike attachment to the nut. Or it could have been planted by a bird known as the Clark’s nutcracker, which likes to hide pine seeds in caches; nutcrackers have phenomenal spatial memory and can recall thousands of such caches. This seed, however, lay undisturbed. On a moist day in fall, or in the wake of melting snows in spring, a seedling appeared above ground—a stubby one-inch stem with a tuft of bright-green shoots.

Most seedlings die within a year; the mortality rate is more than ninety-nine per cent. The survivors are sometimes seen growing in the shadow of a fallen tree. Continue reading