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

Vote Early, Vote Often

Voting open for crowdsourced climate change innovations

MIT Climate CoLab allows the public to vote for promising crowdsourced ideas on how to tackle climate change.

Annalyn Bachmann | MIT Climate CoLab

MIT-CCl-02_0.jpgThis is better than democracy, and as important as any citizen science initiative we know of, so we hope you will contribute:

MIT Climate CoLab has opened a public voting period to select the top innovative ideas on how to tackle climate change. A project of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, Climate CoLab is an online platform where over 90,000 community members from around the world work together to develop and select proposals to help solve this massive, complex issue. Continue reading

Enlisting Enzymes for Ecoefficiency

Models of stain-fighting enzymes, displayed on clothes in a washing machine. Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

We’ve been highlighting mycological innovation since the early days of this site, and our enthusiasm has yet to wane. The range of fungi-power will never cease to amaze.

Fighting Climate Change,
One Laundry Load at a Time

A Danish biotechnology company is trying to fight climate change — one laundry load at a time. Its secret weapon: mushrooms like those in a dormant forest outside Copenhagen.

In the quest for a more environmentally friendly detergent, two scientists at the company, Novozymes, regularly trudge through the mud, hunting for oyster mushrooms that protrude from a fallen beech or bracken fungi that feast on tough plant fibers. They are studying the enzymes in mushrooms that speed up chemical reactions or natural processes like decay.

“There is a lot going on here, if you know what to look for,” said Mikako Sasa, one of the Novozymes scientists.

Their work is helping the company develop enzymes for laundry and dishwasher detergents that would require less water, or that would work just as effectively at lower temperatures. The energy savings could be significant. Washing machines, for instance, account for over 6 percent of household electricity use in the European Union.

Enlisting enzymes to battle dirt is not a new strategy. Over thousands of years, mushrooms and their fungi cousins have evolved into masters at nourishing themselves on dying trees, fallen branches and other materials. They break down these difficult materials by secreting enzymes into their hosts. Even before anyone knew what enzymes were, they were used in brewing and cheese making, among other activities. Continue reading

Battery Story, 2017

Tesla grid storage South AustraliaBattery technology is the thing. It seems to be a holy grail that environmentalists and technologists can agree on for helping us, humans who want a habitable planet for generations to come, mitigate climate change. And occasionally it is at the core of short term fixes. Once the dust has settled on 2017, and we are looking back on stories that were on the positive side of long term impact on the planet, this story will probably get more attention. For now it seems like a footnote at the end of the year to note that this Tesla scheme actually seemed to work:

Tesla Grid Storage Battery Reacts Insanely Fast To Coal Power Outage

Last spring, Elon Musk made a daring bet. He claimed he could build and install the world’s largest grid storage battery in South Australia within 100 days of the date a contract was signed or the system would be free. The contract was signed on September 29. Installation was completed by the third week of November. On December 2, the giant 129 MWh system was activated. Continue reading

Preparing For Reef Wipeout, Corals Bred In Captivity

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Coral spawning at the Horniman museum. Photograph: James Craggs/Horniman Museum

The Horniman Museum and Gardens in the UK is doing important work related to coral reef regeneration. Thanks to Damian Carrington and the Guardian for bringing this to our attention:

New lab-bred super corals could help avert global reef wipeout

Pioneering research on cross-species coral hybrids, inoculations with protective bacteria and even genetic engineering could provide a lifeline for the ‘rainforests of the oceans’

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Coral reefs are globally important habitats

New super corals bred by scientists to resist global warming could be tested on the Great Barrier Reef within a year as part of a global research effort to accelerate evolution and save the “rainforests of the seas” from extinction.

Researchers are getting promising early results from cross-breeding different species of reef-building corals, rapidly developing new strains of the symbiotic algae that corals rely on and testing inoculations of protective bacteria. They are also mapping out the genomes of the algae to assess the potential for genetic engineering.

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Planulae held in the tentacles of Tubastrea coccinea prior to release

Innovation is also moving fast in the techniques need to create new corals and successfully deploy them on reefs. One breakthrough is the reproduction of the entire complex life cycle of spawning corals in a London aquarium, which is now being scaled up in Florida and could see corals planted off that coast by 2019. Continue reading

Will Divestment Be The Best News Of 2017?

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Time and again, the petroleum industry has used its political might to stymie global action on climate change. Now cities and states have become the new battleground. Photograph by Robert Nickelsberg / Getty

Some things we lose slowly, which seems better than losing them quicker; other things we gain too slowly:

The Movement to Divest from Fossil Fuels Gains Momentum

Tuesday should have been a day of unmitigated joy for America’s oil and gas executives. The new G.O.P. tax bill treats their companies with great tenderness, reducing even further their federal tax burden.

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Part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as the 10-02 area, serves as the summer breeding ground for two hundred thousand caribou. Photograph by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty

And the bill gave them something else they’ve sought for decades: permission to go a-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But, around four in the afternoon, something utterly unexpected began to happen. A news release went out from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, saying that New York was going to divest its vast pension-fund investments in fossil fuels. The state, Cuomo said, would be “ceasing all new investments in entities with significant fossil-fuel-related activities,” and he would set up a committee with Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller, to figure out how to “decarbonize” the existing portfolio. Continue reading

Chocolate’s Future Is Ours To Write, Within Limits

 

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sethi_breadwinechocolate_3dWe are among those hoping that the future of chocolate is tastier, but we thankfully missed the mistaken headlines highlighted in this story below (thanks to the salt at National Public Radio, USA). So no false hopes dashed, but we pass this along in the interest of science. And to highlight an author who has recently come to our attention. A couple of us who contribute here have a copy of Simran Sethi’s book Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love (click to the right to go to there) on our nightstand currently; she also podcasts on the topic of chocolate over at The Slow Melt (click above to go there).

Sorry Folks, Climate Change Won’t Make Chocolate Taste Better

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A cocoa farmer opens cacao pods with a stick to collect cocoa beans at his farm in Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

Two years ago, news headlines blared, “Cheese really is crack,” citing research that was widely misinterpreted as asserting cheese was addictive. Now, it’s chocolate’s turn.

Last week, several publications celebrated a new study that highlights the impacts of climate change on cocoa, stating global warming might make chocolate taste better. “Good news, chocolate-lovers,” wrote one outlet, “climate change may have a silver lining.”

Sadly, it’s not true. Continue reading

Kelp Forest Versus Kelp Farm

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Kelp forest commentary is not new to our pages, but much more frequently the generic category seaweed has been highlighted for its farming potential. We have apparently not give sufficient attention to the specific value of natural kelp forests. Thanks to Yale 360 and science writer Alastair Bland for this story:

As Oceans Warm, the World’s Kelp Forests Begin to Disappear

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The progression of the destruction of a kelp forest in Tasmania by urchins, photo 1/3.

Kelp forests — luxuriant coastal ecosystems that are home to a wide variety of marine biodiversity — are being wiped out from Tasmania to California, replaced by sea urchin barrens that are nearly devoid of life.

A steady increase in ocean temperatures — nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit in recent decades — was all it took to doom the once-luxuriant giant kelp forests of eastern Australia and Tasmania: Thick canopies that once covered much of the region’s coastal sea surface have wilted in intolerably warm and nutrient-poor water.

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The progression of the destruction of a kelp forest in Tasmania by urchins, photo 2/3.

Then, a warm-water sea urchin species moved in. Voracious grazers, the invaders have mowed down much of the remaining vegetation and, over vast areas, have formed what scientists call urchin barrens, bleak marine environments largely devoid of life.

Today, more than 95 percent of eastern Tasmania’s kelp forests — luxuriant marine environments that provide food and shelter for species at all levels of the food web — are gone. With the water still warming rapidly and the long-spine urchin spreading southward in the favorable conditions, researchers see little hope of saving the vanishing ecosystem.

Diver_surveying_overgrazed_reef_web The progression of the destruction of a kelp forest in Tasmania by urchins, photo 3/3. The Australian island state has lost more than 95 percent its kelp forests in recent decades. COURTESY OF SCOTT LING Continue reading

Doomsday Discussion

Each day we scan the news for stories that will help make sense of the environmental challenges facing humanity, with special attention to potential solutions and collective action taken to rise up to those challenges. Earlier this year we declined to link out to this story that was a collection of doomsday scenarios:

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The Uninhabitable Earth

Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.

By David Wallace-Wells

This article reporting on a recent panel at Harvard University has caused us to reconsider the decision:

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Nikhil Advani (from left), David Wallace-Wells, Elizabeth Wolkovich, Nancy Knowlton, and Campbell Webb.

…Unfortunately, that vision isn’t fiction, but rather Wallace-Wells’ summation of climate change’s little-discussed worst-case scenario for the year 2100.

“I think there’s real value in scaring people,” the journalist said Wednesday during a panel at the Geological Museum, sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

The event, “Hope and Despair: Communicating an Uncertain Future,” explored whether doom and gloom are more effective than hope in spurring climate action. Panelists agreed that fear is a potentially powerful lever, but also insisted on the importance of covering success stories. Progress is an important motivator, keeping people from succumbing to despair in the face of bad news. Continue reading

Victory Favoring Earth, We Hope

Lisa Friedman appears twice on today’s landing page of the newspaper she works for, once as co-host on a video, below, about Alaska; and again as host of an equally important story in the form of an interview, also captured on this video titled Jerry Brown on How to Fix Global Warming.

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How can policymakers fight climate change in the face of political headwinds? Gov. Jerry Brown of California addresses that question at ClimateTECH, a conference from The New York Times, in a conversation with Thomas L. Friedman. By THE NEW YORK TIMES on Publish DateNovember 29, 2017. Photo by Friedemann Vogel/European Pressphoto Agency.  Watch in Times Video »

Nebraska & Keystone

 

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On the back of the Keystone fight, an entire new front in the climate fight has emerged. Photograph by Nati Harnik / AP

Difficult to believe:

Nebraska Sort of Approves the Keystone Pipeline

By Bill McKibben

In the summer of 2011, National Journal polled a group of “energy and environment insiders” in Washington, D.C., to ask if the Keystone XL pipeline would be approved. “Virtually all” of them said yes; by a landslide, they predicted that TransCanada Corporation would have the permits in hand by the end of that year. They didn’t reckon, however, with an outpouring of opposition, including from a group I helped found, 350.org. Continue reading

Avoiding Misery Can Take Decades

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Thanks to Anthony Doerr for this opinion, which we tend to agree with:

We Were Warned

Boise, Idaho — Twenty-five years ago this month, more than 1,500 prominent scientists, including over half of the living Nobel laureates, issued a manifesto titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” in which they admonished, “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” Continue reading

Heroes Come And Go, Climate Change Marches On

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For all their tough-on-carbon rhetoric, Governor Jerry Brown, of California, and other leaders are ignoring a key component of the fight against global warming. Photograph by Lukas Schulze / Getty

The song Kermit used to sing was cute. Until it was no longer cute. Saying it is not easy is a vast understatement in an era when bombast reigns. Bill McKibben, who we probably highlight more in these pages than any other single author, reminds us of this every time we read what he has to say. If you can call it a luxury, McKibben is more free to speak truth to power than a normally standup politician, who sometimes will take a position that pure activists are correct to oppose. Case in point, here is an erstwhile leader who pure activists will not allow to have it both ways:

Why Governor Jerry Brown Was Booed at the Bonn Climate Summit

Spare a little pity for Jerry Brown. The California governor has been standing up admirably to Donald Trump on many issues, but especially on climate change—even threatening to launch scientific satellites to replace the ones that Washington wants to ground. This week, he’s in Bonn, Germany, at the global climate talks, spearheading the drive to show that America’s states and cities have not forsaken the promises made last year in Paris. On Saturday, barely a minute into his big prime-time talk, Brown was rewarded for his pains with booing. He was visibly startled when demonstrators interrupted his speech and began chanting, “Keep it in the ground!” Continue reading

Carbon Engineering, Bill Gates, And Long-Shot Answers To Climate Change

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Carbon-dioxide removal could be a trillion-dollar enterprise, because it not only slows the rise in CO2 but reverses it. Photo-Illustration by Thomas Albdorf for The New Yorker

If you read the caption to the photo above, and then the first sentence of the story it headlines, you could come away with the thrilling sense that there is an entrepreneurial opportunity associated with climate change. There is something reassuring about the fact that Bill Gates has made some bets in this realm. Pasted below is also the last paragraph of the story. We recommend reading the whole long-form reporting that goes in between:

Can Carbon-Dioxide Removal Save the World?

CO2 could soon reach levels that, it’s widely agreed, will lead to catastrophe.

Moyers & McKibben

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Environmental activists in kayaks protest the arrival of the Polar Pioneer, an oil drilling rig owned by Shell Oil, in Seattle. Backbone Campaign / Flickr

A book by one of our favorite activists being reviewed, in the form of an interview, with one of the greats of decent, thoughtful media:

Moyers and McKibben: What to Do When Time Is Running Out for the Planet

By Bill Moyers

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Penguin Press, 2017

I wasn’t one of the 50,766 participants who finished the New York City Marathon last weekend. Instead, I spent the average marathon finish time of 4:39:07 to read a book—obviously a small book. In the interest of disclosure, I didn’t even start the race, but that’s another and even shorter story than Radio Free Vermont, the book from which I did occasionally look up and out the window to check on the stream of marathoners passing our apartment, their faces worn and haggard.

A shame, I thought, that I couldn’t go outside and hand each one a copy of the book that had kept me smiling throughout the day while also restoring my soul; I was sure the resilience would quickly have returned to weary feet and sore muscles now draped in aluminum foil for healing’s sake. I admire those athletes, but wouldn’t have traded their run for my read, because Radio Free Vermont is funny, very funny, all the more so considering the author is one of the more serious men on the planet—the planet he has spent his adult life trying to save. Continue reading

Speaking for the Trees

‘Hope, courage and anger’: The Indigenous Guardians of the Forest caravan to Bonn, in front of the French National Assembly in Paris last week. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Guardian

Thanks once again to the Guardian for sharing these stories from the front line.

‘For us, the land is sacred’: on the road with the defenders of the world’s forests

Of the many thousands of participants at the Bonn climate conference which begins on 6 November, there will arguably be none who come with as much hope, courage and anger as the busload of indigenous leaders who have been criss-crossing Europe over the past two weeks, on their way to the former German capital.

The 20 activists on the tour represent forest communities that have been marginalised over centuries but are now increasingly recognised as important actors against climate change through their protection of carbon sinks.

In the run-up to the United Nations talks, they have been visiting the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, talking to city leaders, environment NGOs and youth groups. Their aim is to build support for their role as forest defenders – a role that frequently puts them odds with agribusiness, mining companies and public security. The Observer caught up with them on the road to Paris.

“We have been looking after the forest for thousands of years. We know how to protect them,” said Candida Dereck Jackson, vice president of the National Indigenous Alliance in Honduras, as she outlined the principal demands of the group: respect for land rights, recognition of crimes against the environment, direct negotiations over forest protection, decriminalisation of indigenous activists, and free, prior and informed consent before any development by outsiders. Continue reading

Biogenics In The 21st Century

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A wood stove burns with pellet fuel. Photo © U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr through a CC BY 2.0 license

Thanks to Cool Green Science for this reminder about the use of wood and related biomass as fuel throughout human history, and its implications for today’s climate change challenges:

As long as the Clean Power Plan is still in place, electric utilities are looking for ways to clean up their carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and prevent global changes in climate. Some utilities are switching to natural gas, which emits lower amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of energy generated. However, natural gas is not without its own problems.

Humans used firewood for thousands of years, during a period with little change in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. So some utilities are looking toward the burning of wood, also known as biomass or biogenic energy, to generate power. This is an interesting “throw back” to an earlier time when firewood was used widely for heat, light, and early industrial processes. But, there is a reason why we switched to coal, which has greater energy content per unit weight.

It is natural to think that burning firewood would have a minor effect on atmospheric CO2. Continue reading

Birds + Artists + Spraypaint = Audubon Murals

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A swallow-tailed kite and 12 other birds painted by Lunar New Year.

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Tricolored Heron by Federico Massa a.k.a. iena cruz. Photo: Mila Tenaglia

Murals with birds always capture our attention; we cannot resist linking to such initiatives when they are cleverly conceived, elegantly executed, and perfectly placed. Enjoy this epic series, a fitting tribute to the National Audubon Society:

Where Birds Meet Art . . . After Dark

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Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

The Audubon Mural Project is a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and Gitler & Gallery to create murals of climate-threatened birds throughout John James Audubon’s old Harlem‐based neighborhood in New York City. The project is inspired by the legacy of the great American bird artist and pioneering ornithologist and is energized by Audubon’s groundbreaking Birds and Climate Change Report, which reveals at least half of all North American birds are threatened by a warming climate. The project commissions artists to paint murals of each of the report’s 314 species, and has been widely covered in the media, including most recently by The New York Times.

Thanks to the Editorial Board of the New York Times for reminding us of this:

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Louise Jones, with her husband, Gabe, working on a mural of an evening grosbeak. Credit Photographs by Karsten Moran for The New York Times

In his final years, John James Audubon, the celebrated 19th-century painter of bird life, lived in rustic uptown Manhattan in a house by the Hudson where some of his final paintings were of urban rats that caught his eye. Continue reading

Environmental Leadership Born Of Cold-Eyed Pragmatism

Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, says the decision to source all the town’s energy from renewable resources was based in cold-eyed pragmatism. Photograph: Katie Hayes Luke for the Guardian

This is what America’s eco city of the future looks like

Georgetown mayor Dale Ross is ‘a good little Republican’ – but ever since his city weaned itself off fossil fuels, he has become a hero to environmentalists Continue reading

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