The Footprint Of Our Data-Driven Lives

New-Dark-Age-1050-5927870a2b206657f6b87133d3f776c4.jpgThanks to John Harris, writing in the Guardian, for “Our phones and gadgets are now endangering the planet,” an opinion essay that doubles as a review of the book to the right:

It was just another moment in this long, increasingly strange summer. I was on a train home from Paddington station, and the carriage’s air-conditioning was just about fighting off the heat outside. Most people seemed to be staring at their phones – in many cases, they were trying to stream a World Cup match, as the 4G signal came and went, and Great Western Railway’s onboard wifi proved to be maddeningly erratic. The trebly chatter of headphone leakage was constant. And thousands of miles and a few time zones away in Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the world’s largest concentrations of computing power was playing its part in keeping everything I saw ticking over, as data from around the world passed back and forth from its vast buildings.

Most of us communicate with this small and wealthy corner of the US every day. Thanks to a combination of factors – its proximity to Washington DC, competitive electricity prices, and its low susceptibility to natural disasters – the county is the home of data centres used by about 3,000 tech companies: huge agglomerations of circuitry, cables and cooling systems that sit in corners of the world most of us rarely see, but that are now at the core of how we live. About 70% of the world’s online traffic is reckoned to pass through Loudoun County. Continue reading

Last Resort Waste Management

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In our sustainable hospitality practice we do from time to time think of incineration as an option worthy of consideration. Especially in India, where waste management is at a completely different stage of development, we thought about it quite seriously. But in the UK, it is clearly not the first best option. If you want to learn a thing or two about waste management, a few minutes with this article will be worth your while:

Waste incineration set to overtake recycling in England, Greens warn

Amount of rubbish burned by local authorities triples while household recycling rates stall

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Full recycling bins on pavement in Bristol. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

England is on the brink of burning more of its rubbish in incinerators than it recycles for the first time, according to a new analysis.

The amount of waste managed by local authorities and sent to incinerators, or energy-from-waste plants, tripled between 2010-11 and 2016-17. By contrast, household recycling rates have stalled since 2013.

If those trends continue, the millions of tonnes of waste incinerated will overtake the amount sent for recycling by the end of the current financial year, a report by the Green party found. Continue reading

Helping Plants Make Their Own Nitrogen

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Poplar trees at the Snoqualmie River in Washington State. The river is fed mostly by snow melt and is extremely low in nitrogen, yet the trees thrive thanks to endophytes. Sharon Doty

Thanks to our friends at the salt, and National Public Radio (USA) for this:

Microbial Magic Could Help Slash Your Dinner’s Carbon Footprint

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Endophytes are microbes that live inside plants — the ones tagged with a fluorescent dye in this image are found in poplars. The microbes gather nitrogen from the air, turning it into a form plants can use, a process called nitrogen fixation. Researchers are looking at how these microbes could be used to help crops like rice and corn make their own fertilizer.
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If you’re interested in sustainability, you’ve probably thought about how to reduce your carbon footprint, from how you fuel your car to how you heat your home. But what about carbon emissions from growing the food you eat?

Most of the crops in the United States are grown using chemical fertilizer – a lot of it: American farmers used over 24 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer in 2011. And making nitrogen fertilizer requires fossil fuels like natural gas or coal. Continue reading

Insects, Underappreciated Often-Charismatic Fauna

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This article by Robin McKie, Observer science editor, will have you thinking differently about what are often called the pests of summer:

Where have all our insects gone?

There is a crisis in the countryside – and a massive decline in insect numbers could have significant consequences for the environment

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A great yellow bumblebee. Its numbers have declined steeply in recent years. Photograph: Alamy

When Simon Leather was a student in the 1970s, he took a summer job as a postman and delivered mail to the villages of Kirk Hammerton and Green Hammerton in North Yorkshire. He recalls his early morning walks through its lanes, past the porches of houses on his round. At virtually every home, he saw the same picture: windows plastered with tiger moths that had been attracted by lights the previous night and were still clinging to the glass. “It was quite a sight,” says Leather, who is now a professor of entomology at Harper Adams University in Shropshire. Continue reading

Decades Of Awareness, But Not Enough Action

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Thirty years ago, James Hansen, a scientist at nasa, issued a warning about the dangers of climate change. The predictions he and other scientists made at the time have proved spectacularly accurate. Photograph by Charles Ommanney / The Washington Post / Getty

I have always been appropriately alarmed by Elizabeth Kolbert’s articles and her comment pieces in the New Yorker. This brief comment below is alarming enough, but with a twist. Science has done its job, but we as citizens, business people, civic leaders have not acted with sufficient urgency considering the clear scientific evidence.

IMG_7014It may be true that scientists have not been the most compelling communicators, but that is no excuse for our inaction. As someone who left a scientific career developing a theoretical framework for entrepreneurial conservation in favor of opportunities to apply those ideas in the real world, I am in the same boat as a climate scientist. I look around today, after decades of best effort and I conclude that we have not accomplished enough in our practice. In our efforts to offer alternatives to messier forms of tourism, we have not accomplished enough. That is discouraging. But discouragement is not an option. We must find a better way to communicate that generates the required action for a less messy planet:

Listening to James Hansen on Climate Change, Thirty Years Ago and Now

On June 23, 1988—a blisteringly hot day in Washington, D.C.—James Hansen told a Senate committee that “the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now.” At the time, Hansen was the head of nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and though his testimony was certainly not the first official warning about the “greenhouse effect”—a report to President Lyndon Johnson, in 1965, predicted “measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate” in the decades to follow—it was the first to receive national news coverage. The Times ran the story at the top of the front page, with a graph showing a long-term rise in average global temperatures. Continue reading

Audubon’s Reasonable Request

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Northern Harrier. Photo: Diana Whiting/Audubon Photography Awards

A message from friends:

NEW YORK — “Audubon is committed to protecting birds and the places they need — and the greatest threat to birds and people is climate change,” said David Yarnold (@david_yarnold), president and CEO of National Audubon Society.

“While some may be holding out for a perfect solution to climate change, we know that it will take an array of approaches to reduce planet-warming pollution.

“The Carbon Capture Coalition is pursuing many avenues—including a market-driven approach that has deep bipartisan support. Audubon is excited to be at the table with a range of voices exploring policy options that accelerate a reduction in carbon pollution,” Yarnold added.

The Carbon Capture Coalition is led by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the Great Plains Institute. With over 50 members ranging from the energy industry, agriculture, labor unions and conservation leaders, the coalition is non-partisan and solutions-oriented. Recently, the coalition successfully advocated for improving and extending the carbon capture tax credit, known as the 45Q tax credit, led by Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Barrasso (R-WY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). Continue reading

Renewables In Our Midst

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When it opens in 2020, Facebook’s new data center in Odense, Denmark will channel its waste heat to warm nearly 7,000 homes. FACEBOOK

Thanks to Nicola Jones and colleagues at Yale Environment 360 for this:

Waste Heat: Innovators Turn to an Overlooked Renewable Resource

Nearly three-quarters of all the energy produced by humanity is squandered as waste heat. Now, large businesses, high-tech operations such as data centers, and governments are exploring innovative technologies to capture and reuse this vast renewable energy source.

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Heat radiates from the Grangemouth Oil Refinery in Scotland. About 70 percent of all the energy produced globally gets discarded as waste heat. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

When you think of Facebook and “hot air,” a stream of pointless online chatter might be what comes to mind. But the company will soon be putting its literal hot air — the waste heat pumped out by one of its data centers — to good environmental use. That center, in Odense, Denmark, plans to channel its waste heat to warm nearly 7,000 homes when it opens in 2020.

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Data centers, such as Google’s facility in Dalles, Oregon, generate huge amounts of waste heat. GOOGLE

Waste heat is everywhere. Every time an engine runs, a machine clunks away, or any work is done by anything, heat is generated. That’s a law of thermodynamics. More often than not, that heat gets thrown away, dribbling out into the atmosphere. The scale of this invisible garbage is huge: About 70 percent of all the energy produced by humanity gets chucked as waste heat. Continue reading

Water, Power & Discontent

Early last year an article in the Guardian reminded me of work I had done in Montenegro in an earlier decade. The work was among the most impactful in my life, both professionally and personally, but the reminder was more a warning than a celebration. Something similar just happened with work I carried out in the region Rachel Dixon, a travel writer for the Guardian, brought to my attention with the film above, mentioned in this article:

Adventure in Albania: kayaking in one of Europe’s final frontiers

With wild rivers, mountains and Unesco sites aplenty, Albania is emerging as an exciting Mediterranean destination – but its wilderness could be devastated by huge dam-building projects

5188‘Go, go, go!” The white-water rafting guide shouted orders from the back of the boat and our five-strong crew paddled hard to stay on course. We were tackling a stretch of the Vjosa, a 270km river that begins in Greece (where it is called the Aoös) and flows through Albania and into the Adriatic just north of the city of Vlora. I was on a recce trip for a new southern Albanian break with Much Better Adventures, which specialises in long weekends to wild places in Europe and North Africa. But this trip was not just a fun adventure – rather just part of a campaign to save the river, which is under threat from proposed dams. A documentary film, Blue Heart, out this month, will highlight the fight to protect Europe’s last wild rivers, with help from ecotourism…

The film, and the article, have to do with the power of water. And the power of humans in deciding what to do with water. Not all reminders can be pleasant. This one is bittersweet. One sweet part is the call to action.

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Step 1: Register your interest in hosting a screening

We are aiming to host hundreds of screenings of Blue Heart globally in 2018 to raise awareness of the plight of the people affected in the Balkan region. If you are interested in hosting a screening, please complete the form below and a member of our team will get back to you ASAP.  Please note the film is 40 mins long and we recommend that you allow at least 20 mins for a post screening discussion. Continue reading

Being Ecological When Nature Is Perceived With Limits

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A book about ecology without information dumping, guilt inducing, or preaching to the choir.

This new book is mentioned in a description of coming to terms with a life without water, an essay written from the perspective of living in Cape Town, South Africa. The essay is moving in the way a dream can be, which fits the writer’s reference to what we all might come to know as “the water-anxiety dream.”

The essay was effective enough to get me to click through to find out more about the book to the left. Which leads to Timothy Morton, who has somehow avoided our notice until now. How had we missed an author of books with titles like Dark Ecology, and The Ecological Thought, as well as Ecology without Nature?

Nevermind how. My thanks to Rosa Lyster for this, among other gifts from her essay.

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For some residents of Cape Town, the memory of the drought is already fading. But, in an increasingly parched world, will the anxiety ever really end? Illustration by Owen Gent

A friend of mine got married in her parents’ garden last year, on a lavishly beautiful late-summer afternoon in Cape Town. Many of the guests were British, and they could not stop remarking on the fineness of the weather. It was a startling reminder that some people still relish hot days with no possibility of rain, that not everyone looks upon February in the Western Cape as something to be endured. After the ceremony, my date and I stood by the swimming pool, drinking sparkling wine and monitoring the canapés. My friend’s stepfather came by to say hello, carefully picking his way past the bride’s two young brothers, who were playing an ecstatic game of hide-and-seek on the lawn, getting grass stains on their tiny suits. After gracefully accepting our praise about how lovely everything had been, he told us that he’d been having torrid anxiety dreams. We nodded. Weddings are notoriously hard on the old nerves—guests to be tended to, speeches to be made, and the pool just lying there, waiting for any old idiot to accidentally fall in and cast an undignified pall over the happy day. He shook his head. His dream, he explained, was about the garden. Continue reading

Celebrating A Force Of Nature, The Sky, With Clouds In All Their Visual Wonder

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Nebraska, June, 2012.

Just because the climate is changing at a pace both dangerous and seemingly impossible to slow, given human tendencies; just because the storms that come from clouds can cause fear and worse; none of that diminishes our wonder and our ability to see importance in those clouds:

A Storm Chaser’s Unforgiving View of the Sky

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Texas, June, 2014.

By Alan Burdick

Photography by Camille Seaman

A cloud is a shade in motion. Shape-shifting and moody, it arrives with a message that is opaque as often as it is threatening. “Clouds always tell a true story,” the Scottish meteorologist Ralph Abercromby wrote, in 1887, “but one which is difficult to read.”

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Kansas, June, 2008.

The appeal of clouds is obvious: no two are the same, and no one is the same for long. And they not only manifest change but inflict it as well. A cloud can be beautiful, terrible, or both—the embodiment of the sublime. Few other things on earth still present us with a power larger than ourselves. To watch a supercell gather force over the plains, as storm chasers take such pleasure in doing, is to watch Zeus take shape on earth. Continue reading

Polar Bears, Hudson Bay & Informed Opinion

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Polar bears haunt the landscape around the remote town of Churchill in northern Manitoba.Published On Credit Image by Ian Kerr

Thanks to Ian Kerr, a filmmaker who has spent years documenting polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba and shared this op-ed in the New York Times:

Polar Bears of Hudson Bay

Polar bears sleep a lot. That sight can leave an observer feeling disappointed, even insulted — it’s like watching a superhero clean his nails while you’re wishing he’d fly or pick up a car.

Keep watching, though, and you begin to notice interesting things about the sleeping bear’s world: the hard, cold snow blown across ice or the sun turning into a vertical streak through sheets of sleet; the odd, sticky sensation of frost slowly growing over your beard. Continue reading

Two Op-Eds Arguing The Same Powerful Case In Two Different Ways

23Englander-superJumbo.jpgNathan Englander came to my attention nearly six years ago. A novelist who lives in Brooklyn, he got me thinking about story-telling in a way that was very important to me, two years into our residency in India. He did something important for me again this last week, focusing my attention on an act I would normally ignore. But his point resonated with me because of the subject’s connection to the state of nature. So I thought about how to link to his op-ed in a manner consistent with our objectives on this site.

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Credit Lan Truong

Four years ago Richard Conniff, who writes about wildlife and human and animal behavior, started a long series of regular appearances in our pages. The day after Nathan Englander published the op-ed I mentioned above, Richard Conniff published an op-ed referencing the same act, a day in advance of Earth Day. And it is powerful. So I knew how to proceed, and with this excerpt you may be inclined to read both op-eds in full:

I was thinking about Mr. Buckel and about despair a few nights later, over a drink with Joe Walston of the Wildlife Conservation Society. As director of that organization’s worldwide field conservation work, Mr. Walston routinely comes face-to-face with the dark forces of human overpopulation, mass extinction of species, climate change and pollution. But he is also the co-author of a paper being published this week in the journal BioScience that begins with the uplifting words of Winston Churchill to the British nation in June 1940, under the shadow of the Nazi conquest of France: “In casting up this dread balance sheet and contemplating our dangers with a disillusioned eye,” Churchill declared, “I see great reason for intense vigilance and exertion, but none whatever for panic or despair.” Continue reading

Global Problems, Forests & Solutions

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Thomas E. Lovejoy a pioneer in the use of economics to conserve forests and other ecosystems globally is joined by John Reid, who has worked in the Amazon since 1965, in presenting a case for:

How Big Forests Solve Global Problems

Sit on a log by the Madidi River in Bolivia at dusk and you can hear what an Amazon forest should sound like. The music includes red howler monkeys, breathy thumps from the mutum jungle fowl, droning cicadas, eerie calls locals attribute to deadly bushmaster vipers and the unhinged excitement of elusive titi monkeys. Around your feet, the beach is crisscrossed by jaguar tracks and those of the pony-size tapir, a shy beast that, if you keep quiet, will saunter out of the forest and swim across the river.

This is what scientists call an “intact forest landscape.” It’s a swath of at least 500 square kilometers (about 193 square miles, equal to 70,000 soccer fields) of unbroken forest. Because of their size, these areas have maintained all their native plant and animal life and biophysical processes. These forests still adorn parts of our planet’s tropical midsection, notably the Amazon, Congo Basin and the island of New Guinea. And they form a northern belt, the boreal forests of Canada, Russia, Alaska and Scandinavia. Continue reading

Carbon Footprint Self-Analysis

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Thanks to Livia Albeck-Ripka and the New York Times for this

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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What Is a Carbon Footprint?

Climate change can be overwhelming. The science is complex, and when it comes to future impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns. While real solutions will require action on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal impact on the environment. This guide will walk you through some of them.

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DRIVE LESS

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end-of-life of a product or service. It includes carbon dioxide — the gas most commonly emitted by humans — and others, including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which trap gas in the atmosphere, causing global warming. Usually, the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.

You can start the process by calculating your carbon footprint here. You will need to know the following: Continue reading

Government Conference Looking For Solutions To Big Puzzles

Happy to hear that there are still such efforts (conferences such as the one described below) underway and that they are inclined to the audacious. Thanks to Brad Plumer, at the New York Times, for this report:

Kelp Farms and Mammoth Windmills Are Just Two of the Government’s Long-Shot Energy Bets

Thousands of entrepreneurs gathered near Washington this week for an annual government conference. On the agenda: unusual solutions to major clean-energy problems.

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A kelp forest off Mexico’s Pacific coast. A project presented this week at an energy research conference proposes using tiny robots to farm seaweed for use in biofuels. Credit Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild, via Getty Images

Off the coast of California, the idea is that someday tiny robot submarines will drag kelp deep into the ocean at night, to soak up nutrients, then bring the plants back to the surface during the day, to bask in the sunlight.

The goal of this offbeat project? To see if it’s possible to farm vast quantities of seaweed in the open ocean for a new type of carbon-neutral biofuel that might one day power trucks and airplanes. Unlike the corn- and soy-based biofuels used today, kelp-based fuels would not require valuable cropland. Continue reading

Keeping It In The Ground?

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“Keep it in the ground” activists protesting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline on February 17, 2018 near Belle Rose, Louisiana. Travis Lux/WWNO

Under the current circumstances in the USA (you know what we mean) it is not straightforward to consider optimism obvious. But stranger things have happened. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for reminding us that when times get tough, the tough tough it out on behalf of us all:

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Activist Cherri Foytlin vows to physically block construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana.
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The United States oil business is booming and the country could soon be the largest crude oil producer in the world. Despite this record-breaking production, climate change activists campaigning to move away from fossil fuels say they are making progress.

Here’s the idea underpinning the ‘keep it in the ground‘ movement: to address climate change, activists say known reserves of fossil fuels will have to be left untouched instead of burned. In the meantime, they want countries to transition to renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind. Continue reading

Interpreting Climate News

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The temperature difference from normal over the Arctic averaged over the next five days in the GFS model forecast. (University of Maine Climate Reanalyzer)

Is it cataclysm or is it a rendering of what we already thought we knew? In case you missed it, there was some startling news that came with this image to the left, that does not look like anything we have ever seen. And the article starts like this:

While the Eastern United States simmers in some of its warmest February weather ever recorded, the Arctic is also stewing in temperatures more than 45 degrees above normal. This latest huge temperature spike in the Arctic is another striking indicator of its rapidly transforming climate.

On Monday and Tuesday, the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing according to the Danish Meteorological Institute. “How weird is that?” tweeted Robert Rohde, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. “Well it’s Arctic winter. The sun set in October and won’t be seen again until March. Perpetual night, but still above freezing.”

This thaw occurred as a pulse of extremely mild air shot through the Greenland Sea.

Warm air is spilling into the Arctic from all sides. On the opposite end of North America, abnormally mild air also poured over northern Alaska on Tuesday, where the temperature in Utqiaġvik, previously known as Barrow, soared to a record high of 31 degrees (minus-1 Celsius), 40 degrees (22 Celsius) above normal. [continue to the article]

Alarming? We think so. Clear? We do not think so. Eric Lach, Deputy News Editor at The New Yorker, has this brief helpful interpretation, with a much easier to understand illustration:

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Many media outlets now regularly cover instances of extreme weather in remote corners of the world. How should readers understand these reports? Photograph by Esther Horvath / Redux

How to Read Today’s Big Climate-Change Headline

This week brought news from the Arctic. “Arctic temperatures soar 45 degrees above normal, flooded by extremely mild air on all sides,” the Washington Post declared, in a headline. The article below that headline detailed how, on Monday and Tuesday, at the northern tip of Greenland, temperatures rose above freezing for a full twenty-four-hour period—extremely unusual for this time of year—while temperatures across “the entire Arctic north of 80 degrees latitude have averaged about 10 degrees (6 Celsius) above normal since the beginning of the calendar year.”

All sorts of media outlets now regularly cover instances of extreme weather in remote corners of the world. And yet how should readers understand these reports? Are the ups and downs of climate change something to follow in the newspaper, like the Mets or the Yankees? [continue to the post]

Indonesian Seaweed Farming

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Seaweed harvesting in Takalar, Indonesia. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

The subject of seaweed farming, which we sometimes refer to as kelp farming, is of keen interest to us because of the relationship to conservation; our thanks to Tiffany Waters at Cool Green Science:

Seaweed Farming: A Gateway to Conservation and Empowerment

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Seaweed seedlings. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

“What does your husband do while you’re working on the seaweed lines?”, we ask. She laughs and says in Bahasa, “He does the cooking and the cleaning.”

It’s day 6 of our field visit to Indonesia and we’re in Takalar visiting our fifth island and third seaweed farm of the trip. On the brink of the ‘extreme season,’ stifling hot is an understatement, but the light breeze from the Flores Sea provides a welcome break from the three flights and 2-hour van trip that brought us here. Continue reading

Divesting Scales With Leadership

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 5.25.34 AMThanks to the Guardian for giving Bill McKibben the space to put the New York City decision in perspective:

Over the years, the capital of the fight against climate change has been Kyoto, or Paris – that’s where the symbolic political agreements to try and curb the earth’s greenhouse gas emissions have been negotiated and signed. But now, New York City vaulted to leadership in the battle.

On Wednesday, its leaders, at a press conference in a neighborhood damaged over five years ago by Hurricane Sandy, announced that the city was divesting its massive pension fund from fossil fuels, and added for good measure that they were suing the five biggest oil companies for damages. Our planet’s most important city was now at war with its richest industry. And overnight, the battle to save the planet shifted from largely political to largely financial. Continue reading