Nature Is In Our Hands

Niagara

NiagaraPostcard.jpgBefore moving to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s I was working for a few years at a desk with images like the one above taped to the walls around me, and postcards from the previous century, like the one to the right, scattered about for inspiration.

Inman1.jpegOn the desk were drafts of a dissertation whose summary, on page 131, states: “…the results of the first hypothesis suggest that lodging firms in a tourism destination, such as Niagara Falls, should be directly involved with the strengthening and support of the institutional environment in which they operate.”

In other words, if you benefit from nature for your livelihood one of your best investments will be in building and strengthening institutions that protect nature. It may now sound like stating the obvious, but Nobel laureate economists made claims to the contrary that were treated as gospel truth twenty five years ago.

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So I spent 132 pages, not including bibliography, to make my point. I have wondered ever since whether it could be summed up more simply. I realized yesterday after all these years, when Amie and I were meeting with graphic designers to discuss how to communicate more effectively about Organikos, that maybe the answer is yes.

Hand+TreeWhen I saw this hand and tree side by side in that meeting, I had a reaction that was related to what the graphic designer intended, but not exactly.

Hand+ OrganikosWhatever his precise intent was, my mouth opened and blurted out: Yes! Nature is in our hands. And so we have come upon a way to say a little more simply what Organikos means in addition to what Organikos does.

Floating Solar

When we think of Holland, we think of its engineering contributions to the world’s lower elevation places that have water management issues. Such as Kerala historically, and soon to be many more places due to climate change-related water levels rising. Here is a novel twist on using their expertise with water, for which we give thanks to the Guardian:

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 The islands will contain 73,500 panels. Photograph: Floating Solar

Dutch engineers build world’s biggest sun-seeking solar farm

The 15 floating solar islands will possess sunflower-like ability to turn to face the sun

Dutch engineers are building what will be the world’s largest archipelago of islands made up of sun-tracking solar panels.

Growing resistance to the construction of wind turbines or fields of solar panels on land has led the renewable energy industry to look for alternative options. Large islands of solar panels are under construction or already in place in reservoirs and lakes across the Netherlands, China, the UK and Japan. Continue reading

Charismatic Doesn’t Always Have to Be Cute

We applaud Pennsylvania lawmakers for choosing to highlight a creature whose presence in waterways indicates healthy ecosystems. Thanks to NPR for the story.

Snot Otter Emerges Victorious In Vote For Pennsylvania’s Official Amphibian

Pennsylvania’s soon-to-be official amphibian has more than its fair share of nicknames: snot otter, mud devil, Allegheny alligator, devil dog, lasagna lizard.

In short, it’s not exactly a looker.

But the Eastern hellbender salamander was the overwhelming choice of lawmakers for amphibian representation in the state. On Tuesday, the state’s House of Representatives voted 191-6 on a bill that would name the aquatic creature its state amphibian. The Senate passed the bill in February.

The hellbender is a nocturnal salamander that can grow more than 2 feet long. The mud-colored creature, covered in a layer of mucus, breathes primarily through loose flaps of thick, wrinkled skin that look a little bit like lasagna noodles.

The hellbender is also a canary for environmental degradation. Continue reading

Falter, Bill McKibben’s Latest Book

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My morning hike yesterday was accompanied by Bill McKibben. We have featured him so frequently in these pages that I was surprised that I had not already known he had a new book. So I found what I could read about the book, starting with Jared Diamond’s review (snippet below), and a book talk by the author himself (above).

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A floating island of solar panels in Santiago, Chile.CreditEsteban Felix/Associated Press

Solar panels and nonviolent movements are the two of the causes for hope that McKibben mentions in his podcast interview, and in the book talk in Philadelphia, and according to Diamond’s review those are substantive but not sufficient. Hope and fear are both motivators and getting the balance right is the most important task in perhaps the entire history of mankind. I highlight only this part of the review because it is an echo of what Nathaniel Rich says in an interview about his own book:

 

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…McKibben’s book is much more about grounds for fear, which take up some 18 chapters, than about grounds for hope, which take up five. Fear will motivate some people who are currently undecided, and increase the motivation of others already convinced. But in my experience most people need a strong dose of hope to be spurred to action. Why waste effort on a hopeless cause? One group that has learned this lesson is the cancer lobby, which succeeds at raising funds for research by stressing cures that may be just around the corner more than the grim statistics of the disease’s ongoing toll.

In fact, there are reasons for hope besides those McKibben discusses. One is the change in policies of some powerful multinational corporations. I can already hear the horrified screams of many of my environmentalist friends as I say this. Continue reading

The Wind Calls For Attention

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A wind farm in Pomeroy, Iowa. Credit Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In the current political climate it may sound like howling in the wind, at first, but read on:

A Case for a Market-Driven Green New Deal

Any serious energy transformation will need to harness America’s powerful and creative economic engine.

By Amory B. Lovins and Rushad R. Nanavatty

Mr. Lovins and Mr. Nanavatty work at Rocky Mountain Institute, which is focused on creating a clean, low-carbon energy future.

The best thing to come from the Senate’s floor debate on the Green New Deal late last month may have been these eminently sane remarks, calling on lawmakers of both parties to “move together” in order “to lower emissions, to address the reality of climate change, recognizing that we’ve got an economy we need to keep strong, that we have vulnerable people we need to protect, that we have an environment that we all care about — Republicans and Democrats.”

Who said it? A Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who leads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “My hope is we get beyond the high-fired rhetoric to practical, pragmatic, bipartisan solutions,” she said on the chamber floor.

The path is there, if our leaders will only choose to take it. In 2011, Reinventing Firean energy study by Rocky Mountain Institute, where we work, showed how a business-led transition could triple energy efficiency, quintuple renewables and sustain an American economy 2.6 times larger in 2050 than it was in 2010 with no oil, coal or nuclear energy, and one-third less natural gas. The net cost was $5 trillion less than business-as-usual — or even more valuable if a price was put on carbon emissions.

Continue reading

Bird Habitat One Yard At A Time

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Photo: Illustration: Marina Muun

Sometimes the planning is as fulfilling as the outcome. Thanks to Janet Marinelli and Audubon Magazine:

Plant Trees that Turn Your Yard Into a Bird Oasis—and Carbon Sponge

Trees create habitat and store CO2 for decades to come. Just be sure to pick carefully.

One of the best ways to combat climate change is to fill your garden with as many trees, shrubs, and other plants as possible. Whether a tiny orchid or towering oak, all plants have the amazing ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and store it in their wood, shoots, and roots.

Because they’re the giants of the plant kingdom, trees are also powerhouses of carbon storage. In one year, a mature tree can absorb 48 pounds of CO2—about the amount emitted by driving 150 miles in a hybrid plug-in car. Collectively, according to the U.S. Forest Service, trees offset 10 to 20 percent of U.S. emissions from burning fossil fuels each year. The carbon benefits really begin to add up when you consider that trees fight global warming in other ways. For example, carefully placed trees can reduce the energy required to heat and cool a home by 25 percent (see tips here on how to place trees). Because they cool the air by casting shade and releasing water vapor when they breathe, trees also alleviate one of the most underestimated health threats of climate change—heat wavesContinue reading

Organikos & Escazú Coffee Restoration

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I just received the image above, which shows where coffee can be planted on land that currently has grass cover. For most of the last century that land had high grade arabica coffee growing on it, but two decades ago the coffee was removed. The residential value of the land was seen to be greater than the agricultural value, and a large plantation was subdivided into parcels between 3 and 10 acres.

Org100That was then, this is now. Coffee is more valuable than grass. The trees that will be planted to shade the coffee will be of greater value–to birds as well as to the coffee–than the view of undulating hillside. The image above is a first step in the planning process of this restoration initiative. Organikos will start selling coffee in mid-2019, and the proceeds of those sales will pay for the restoration and ongoing improvements of this lot. That is an example of what we mean by 100% Forward.

Faith-Based Green Resistance

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In 2015, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a congregation of nuns, learned that an energy company planned to build a pipeline on their land. So they started a resistance movement. Photograph by Dave Parry

Thanks to Eliza Griswold, who writes about religion (which does not feature often in our pages) and occasionally finds an overlap with environmental causes:

The Renegade Nuns Who Took On a Pipeline

On a crisp October morning in 2017, Sister Sara Dwyer, a sixty-eight-year-old nun wearing a red T-shirt that read “you will not spoil our land,” led three elderly nuns and seventy other protesters onto an industrial work site in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Many carried red banners stencilled with wheat sheaves. They were there to protest Williams, an Oklahoma-based pipeline company that was trying to build the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, a two-hundred-mile natural gas pipeline that would carry shale gas from fields in northeastern Pennsylvania to the coast, where the fuel could be shipped abroad. The company was trying to lay the line under a cornfield belonging to the nuns, and the sisters had decided to fight back, hoping that they might draw attention to the issue of climate change. “Just being in resistance is not the goal,” Dwyer told me. “The goal is spiritual conversion.” As the protesters entered the work site, Malinda Clatterbuck, who had helped plan the event with the sisters, reminded the participants, “This is a nonviolent protest in all ways. We’re not going to yell or speak to the workers.” She walked around asking each person to nod in agreement. “If you’re angry today, go home and come back to an action once you’re in a better place,” she said. Continue reading

Climate Change May Be Illegal

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Lake Palcacocha in the Peruvian Andes. Felipe Fittipaldi for The New York Times

Brooke Jarvis, whose mastery of the complex environmental story we have pointed to a couple times already, shares the story below about a novel legal approach to fighting climate change. It is long, detailed and even more complex than the other stories we have seen by her. But if her subject prevails, the result may be even more profound as well. These two photos alone should draw you in. Thanks to the New York Times Magazine:

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The city of Huaraz in the Peruvian Andes. Felipe Fittipaldi for The New York Times

In the mountains far above the red-brick city, behind a locked gate, there is a great, green valley. Its high stone walls are streaked by waterfalls; its floor dotted with flowers and grazed by horses and cows. Six boulder-strewn miles beyond the gate, the valley ends abruptly at an enormous wall of rock and ice. Beneath it lies a stretch of calm, bright water in milky turquoise — Lake Palcacocha. Though few of its residents have ever seen this lake, the city below lives in fear of it. Continue reading

Horses Reversing Domestication

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The group of 23 wild Konik horses which arrived in the Ukrainian village of Orlovka on March 26 represents the first translocation of such animals into the Danube Delta. SOLVIN ZANKL / REWILDING EUROPE

Thanks, as always, to our friends at Rewilding Europe for another story about an animal we always think of as one of the oldest examples of domestication, and its role in rewilding:

Natural grazing in the Ukrainian Danube Delta boosted by arrival of Konik horses

Representing the first ever translocation of Konik horses into the Danube Delta, the shipment of 23 animals travelled by road from Latvia to the Ukrainian village of Orlovka. By helping to create and maintain mosaic landscapes, their grazing will help to boost biodiversity in the Danube Delta rewilding area.

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The sturdy Koniks, which lived over 20 years in the wild in Latvia, are well-suited to life in the Danube Delta. SOLVIN ZANKL / REWILDING EUROPE

Two herds of wild Konik horses will soon be roaming the landscapes of the Ukrainian Danube Delta, boosting the area’s biodiversity through their natural grazing. A shipment of 23 horses (made up of two family groups) arrived in the small delta village of Orlovka on March 26, having made the long road journey from Latvia. Despite the lengthy trip of around 1800 kilometres, which took nearly two days and two nights, all of the animals were pronounced fit and well on arrival by a veterinarian. Continue reading

South-South Cooperation In The Fight Against Invasive Species

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We missed the story last year about two men in the photo above, from southern India, who were brought to the Florida habitat where invasive pythons are doing enough damage that we started paying attention eight years ago. We are thinking about it again, thanks to the Guardian:

Snake hunters have captured what they say is the largest python ever found in the swamps of the Florida Everglades: a pregnant female more than 17ft (5.2 metres) long and weighing 140lb, or 63.5kg.

The team from the Big Cypress National Preserve posted news of their record-setting catch in a Facebook post that also noted the giant reptile was carrying 73 eggs.

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Big Cypress National Preserve group captures 17ft female python on 4 April. Photograph: Big Cypress National Preserve/Facebook

Environmentalists have been struggling to find ways to eradicate Burmese pythons, a non-native species, from the 1.5m-acre wilderness since the 1980s, when some were released into the wild as overgrown pets. Others escaped from a breeding facility wrecked by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Continue reading

Hermes, Circa 2019

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I have shared the photo above on this platform once before. I wrote a series of reflections on the village where that photo was taken, and today I share a riff on all that. That photo was enlarged to take up an entire wall of our office in India, as a reminder to me each day of the purpose behind what I was doing. Our company’s mission includes education. It is mostly about conservation. That building, which I photographed 10+ years ago, after it had recently been abandoned, has been a reminder for me that one of these days I am determined to share whatever I can from our work in that village.

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This photo was taken of Bangor Vamvakou immigrants in 1949 as they returned to their village. Top left is Nikos Niarchos, a relative of the Greek shipping tycoon. From Top Left, the others are: Vasso Anglesi; George Limberogiannis; Eleni Markos; Panayiotis Servetis; Vasso Kokini; Katsilis Demetrios and Anna Leakou. Middle Row, from Left: Pota Anglesi; Angeliki Skoufi; Eleni Hatzi and Panos Dialialis. At bottom, Left to Right, are Yiannis Limberogiannis and Harris Belbekis.

Thanks to an online publication I follow for news from Greece I found this story that helps explain why I thought of the photo above just now. It gives me both hope and tangible ideas of what might be done. It starts with a group of immigrants in Bangor, Maine whose life trajectory was like that of so many others from the Lakonia region of Greece, including my mother. And the story leads back to a foundation that has been referenced once before in our pages, but this time the foundation’s work hits closer to home:

The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a young person. But sometimes it takes young people to raise up a village, and this is exactly what’s happening in the Laconian village of Vamvakou.

Vamvakou is a short drive from Vourthonia, my mother’s village. So this video below strikes a chord.

 

Some of the images from Mamvakou could as easily have been taken in Vourthonia.

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Source: SNF

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Source: SNF

But it is the story of what is happening in that village that captures my imagination:

Can a once-thriving mountain village, today home to only nine inhabitants, come to life again?

Can it fill with visitors, permanent inhabitants, and model businesses while retaining its traditional character? This is the wager laid by a group of five young people who want to revitalize the village of Vamvakou, 900 meters up the slopes of Mount Parnon in the southeastern Peloponnese.

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Source: SNF

To realize this ambitious project, the five friends, Haris Vasilakos, Anargyros Verdilos, Eleni Mami, Tasos Markos, and Panagiotis Soulimiotis established the “Vamvakou Revival” Social Cooperative Enterprise and decided to move to the village. Continue reading

Renewables For Communities In Need

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EnterA 204-kilowatt community solar array being installed on the roof of the Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis. COURTESY OF COOPERATIVE ENERGY FUTURESa caption

Thanks to Maria Gallucci and Yale e360 for this:

Energy Equity: Bringing Solar Power to Low-Income Communities

Millions of Americans lack access to solar energy because they cannot afford the steep upfront costs. Now, more than a dozen states are adopting “community solar” programs that are bringing solar power and lower energy bills to low-income households from New York to California.

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Workers receive job training while building a shared solar farm in Platteville, Colorado. COURTESY OF GRID ALTERNATIVES

Isbel “Izzy” Palans lives in a small cabin nestled among mountain peaks and towering trees in the Colorado Rockies. Her home is often shaded and, during the long winters, buried under heaps of snow. Her monthly utility bills show credits for solar electricity production, but no solar panels are affixed to her roof. Instead, the power comes from a solar array some 60 miles away in a nearby valley.

Last year, the panels nearly slashed her energy bill in half. “I’ve been thrilled,” said Palans, a 76-year-old retired waitress who relies partly on Social Security benefits to make ends meet.

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Solar contractor Brad Boston (center) and utility representatives meet with engineer Pranay Kohli to discuss a community solar project at DuPont Park Seventh Day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C. COURTESY OF GROUNDSWELL

Palans is a subscriber to a 145-kilowatt solar array project run by Holy Cross Energy, a rural utility cooperative. Built with state funding, the program provides solar credits to more than 40 low-income households in western Colorado that otherwise wouldn’t have the financial or technical means to access renewable energy. The venture is just one of a growing number of so-called “community solar” projects across the United States focused on delivering renewable energy — and the cost-savings it can provide — to low-income households, from California to Minnesota to Massachusetts. Continue reading

Authentica & Organikos

Organikos2019LogoAuthentica, mentioned a couple of times prior to the current series of posts, are preludes, as this one is, to a startup’s opening its doors in a few months. The character of this startup is, in a sense, the opposite of disruption.

A major disruption already happened, and if one of the antonyms of disrupt is organize, then that is what we are doing. Authentica is part of a nascent movement in Costa Rica to provide market opportunities to artisans, farmers, food producers and others who design, craft, grow and cook things that are essentially Costa Rican. The disruption they faced is not the story we want to tell. The reversal of that disruption is the story.  One example is Organikos. Continue reading

Making Something The Traditional Way

Last week, we visited producers of various arts and crafts on the eastern side of Costa Rica. Our first stop was in the Central Valley, just before crossing over to the Caribbean slope, in a coffee shop. There, a man showed us his ceramic work, which we had seen one example of previously. All of it was beautiful, but the one below was the one we chose to purchase as a sample. And here it is, in the morning sun.

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It reminded me of the old documentary above, which I might have seen in 7th grade art class. In less than half an hour, that film clinically explains and demonstrates visually what goes into making something the traditional way. This man, here and now in Costa Rica, is hand-crafting these coffee makers. The material is organic, as is the design, which pays tribute to Costa Rican tradition, as well as to pre-Colombian indigenous tradition. The coffee seems to taste the better for it.

From South-South To North-North

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The beginning of a ski run on the roof of Copenhagen’s new trash incinerator, which will help heat buildings in the city. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

South-south cooperation has been an important learning mechanism for some time and we have shared plenty of those stories in part because those places are where we work. According to Somini Sengupta Copenhagen Wants to Show How Cities Can Fight Climate Change,  so we now also should be paying attention to the northern counterpart of the cooperation that has been getting all our attention:

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Wind turbines along the strait that separates Denmark from Sweden, seen from the Amager Strandpark in Copenhagen. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

COPENHAGEN — Can a city cancel out its greenhouse gas emissions?

Copenhagen intends to, and fast. By 2025, this once-grimy industrial city aims to be net carbon neutral, meaning it plans to generate more renewable energy than the dirty energy it consumes.

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The Copenhagen Metro. A new line, scheduled to open this year, will put most residents less than half a mile from a station. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

Here’s why it matters to the rest of the world: Half of humanity now lives in cities, and the vast share of planet-warming gases come from cities. The big fixes for climate change need to come from cities too. They are both a problem and a potential source of solutions.

The experience of Copenhagen, home to 624,000 people, can show what’s possible, and what’s tough, for other urban governments on a warming planet.

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Recycling bins in the Christianshavn district of Copenhagen. The city requires residents to sort recycling into eight separate categories. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

The mayor, Frank Jensen, said cities “can change the way we behave, the way we are living, and go more green.” His city has some advantages. It is small, it is rich and its people care a lot about climate change.

Mr. Jensen said mayors, more than national politicians, felt the pressure to take action. “We are directly responsible for our cities and our citizens, and they expect us to act,” he said. Continue reading

Regeneration & Food Futures

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A view of wheat grown on Meaker Farm, Montrose, Colorado. Photo © Ken Geiger/TNC

While on the topic of food, thanks to Dustin Solberg and Cool Green Science for this:

Dirt to Soil: A Farmer’s Tell-all Puts Soil First

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Circle irrigation tire tracks remain in the challenging soil conditions on a wheat farm in Colorado. Photo © Ken Geiger/TNC

Quite a few years back, while working the wheat harvest in the middle of Oklahoma, I met a leathery skinned farmer. He lived through the dusty, hardscrabble, droughty years of the Great Depression, and experience had taught him plenty. I still recall his silver belt buckle, his straw cowboy hat, and the funny joke he told me about the buffalo on a buffalo nickel, which I can’t repeat here. He wanted me to know, and so told me in no uncertain terms, that there’s one way, and one way only, to plow a field.

We were standing then in the fresh golden stubble of a wheat field. It was hot. We’d just finished combining and after a day of steady motion we were finally still, the diesel engines at rest. I can still recall the animated force in his muscly hands – he made his fingers into the tines of a chisel plow – to make his point as vividly as I recall what he said: “You’ve got to set the plow deep.”

The trouble was, he was wrong.

Continue reading

Citizen Science Goes Far Afield

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LUISA RIVERA / YALE E360

We have been on watch for citizen science stories since the early days of this platform. Seth had just accepted an offer to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and typical of him, did his homework on what he had committed to. Since then, dozens of first person and linked-to citizen science stories from other members of our community have appeared in these pages. Thanks to Yale e360 and Jessica Leber for this story about how far and wide the practice has spread, and a few of its more amazing discoveries:

Species Sleuths: Amateur Naturalists Spark a New Wave of Discovery

Scientists have not kept pace with the work of discovering new species. Now, a growing number of committed hobbyists – ranging from a Belgian bus driver to a California cybersecurity expert – are out in the field, igniting a boom in documenting the world’s biodiversity.

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COURTESY OF TERRI CLEMENTS

When mushroom hunter Terri Clements found a unique specimen near her home in Arizona, she couldn’t be certain by its appearance that she’d stumbled across a new species. She tracked down a commercial lab that would process DNA from samples she collected and studied the resulting sequences. Only later did she cold email a mycological scientist, who confirmed her work. As a result, this December, she became part of a team publishing a scientific paper describing her new mushroom species, Morchella kaibabensis, along with three others.

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Mushroom hunter Terri Clements used DNA sequencing to confirm a new species of black morel, Morchella kaibabensis, she found near her home in Arizona.

A former restauranteur and real estate executive who retired in 2012, Clements has no formal scientific training beyond her college microbiology minor. But using a combination of traditional taxonomy — the science of describing, naming, and classifying life on earth — and increasingly accessible DNA classification tools, she’s now hooked on documenting fungi either previously unknown in her region, or, just as often, new to science. “I spend hours and hours on it,” she says. “It’s like a full-time job for which I don’t get paid.”

Her work puts her in the ranks of an increasingly vibrant group of hobbyists busy documenting unexplored species on the planet, ranging from a chemical engineer in France, to a cybersecurity specialist in California, to retirees like Clements. Many study organisms from specific groups of fungi, insects, and other invertebrates that are less charismatic and surveyed than the orchids, birds, and butterflies that have long attracted the public’s interest. Continue reading

Green Is The New Black & Costa Rica Is Evergreen

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Costa Rican wildlife was the theme of reception in February to formally introduce the government’s decarbonization strategy.

Somini Sengupta and her colleague Alexander Villegas published a story yesterday that resonates with the explanations Amie and I gave friends and family about our original decision to live in Costa Rica. It also resonates with the decision we made recently to return. In 2010 when we moved to Kerala it was not clear when, or even if, we would be back here. But our work in India was intertwined with Costa Rica’s evergreen pioneering role in the global conversation about conservation. So we are back. And the evergreen is appreciated, especially in the way Costa Rica’s president and his wife tell the story within a story.

A diesel commuter train in San José. The government plans to replace older trains with electric models.

Despite it’s diminutive size, Costa Rica been at the forefront of the climate change conversation. While the country has only about 0.25% of the world’s landmass, it contains almost 5% of the world’s biodiversity. These statistics give both an added incentive to focus energies on shifting the juggernaut of climate change and the ecological soapbox from which to be heard.

Costa Rica has an infrastructural uphill climb, most specifically with transportation as is illustrated below, but the country has stood its ground successfully in the past. When we think of the country’s road network in the mid-1990s relative to the roads today, it gives one of many reasons to be optimistic:

Tiny Costa Rica Has a Green New Deal, Too. It Matters for the Whole Planet.

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — It’s a green big deal for a tiny sliver of a country. Costa Rica, population 5 million, wants to wean itself from fossil fuels by 2050, and the chief evangelist of the idea is a 38-year-old urban planner named Claudia Dobles who also happens to be the first lady. Continue reading

Taking Responsibility For Stuff

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Recycled materials being stacked at facility in Costa Rica last June. EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Some time a millennium or so from now, an article like this one, or perhaps like this one, will be written with wonderment about the waste management practices of the early 21st century. They will not be as amazed by how we digitally stored our most prized possessions, but curious what we did with all our unwanted stuff.

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Scrap metal at a dock in Liverpool, England, waiting to be exported. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

And we have known for some time now that we have not been so clever. We have mostly been hiding that stuff. Out of sight, out of mind. If it seemed too good to be true, there was a reason for that. The long stretch of time during which China’s labor costs and their resource input equations made importing our unwanted stuff a win-win created a kind of mirage. Thanks to Cheryl Katz, writing in Yale e360, for making that clear in this story:

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A worker sorts through plastic bottles at a waste facility in Vietnam. Other Asian countries have increased their waste imports in response to China’s ban. NHAC NGUYEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling

China’s decision to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s recycled waste has left municipalities and waste companies from Australia to the U.S. scrambling for alternatives. But experts say it offers an opportunity to develop better solutions for a growing throwaway culture.

The story is big, which is why I was not surprised to see Alana Semuel’s story on the same topic. Both are worth reading, but this one takes a starker view, and the disturbance its title question causes provides an effective added prod to reduce how much unwanted stuff gets created in the first place.

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Bales of plastic are piled at a Recology facility in San Francisco. (Alana Semuels / The Atlantic)

Is This the End of Recycling?

Americans are consuming more and more stuff. Now that other countries won’t take our papers and plastics, they’re ending up in the trash.

After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans are finally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately. Continue reading