Getting To No On Plastic

5514

The cleanup … Glastonbury 2017. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

This headline in the Guardian, accompanying the photo above, is well timed for me:

Glastonbury festival set to ban plastic bottles in 2019

Emily Eavis says festival is working on ‘enormous project’ to ban plastic bottles on site when it returns after year off in 2018

MarriottNoStraw.jpgThat story continues after the jump, but I want to add to this post an image I just photographed when visiting the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San Jose that was built more than two decades ago. Amie and I were friends with the managers of that property from the mid- to late-1990s, but had lost track of what this property has been up to lately. And I was very happy to learn today that they have recently earned five leaves in the CST program, whose board of directors I served on in the mid- to late-1990s. Bravo, Marriott! And as I snapped this photo, I was told that starting next month this property will have no straws, even if someone says they “really need one” (as the text on the sign says near the bottom). Double bravo!

We have reported on efforts in India, during our years there, to reduce noise pollution using similar signage. Whoever designed this sign for the Marriott property in Costa Rica was thinking along the same lines, graphically speaking. While I am in Costa Rica this week, I hope to have more to report, but for now, back to Glastonbury: Continue reading

Global Citizenship Via Suburban Malls

The Garden Court at Southdale Shopping Center, Edina, Minnesota, circa 1965

The Garden Court at Southdale Shopping Center, Edina, Minnesota, circa 1965 Minnesota Historical Society

Ok, we did not expect to get on a two-day roll with this topic, but Ian Bogost makes an interesting case about the role of malls in the development of cultural norms in the USA in the second half of the last century:

When Malls Saved the Suburbs From Despair

Like it or not, the middle class became global citizens through consumerism—and they did so at the mall.

“Okay, we’ll see you in two-and-a-half hours,” the clerk tells me, taking the iPhone from my hand. I’m at the Apple Store, availing myself of a cheap smartphone battery replacement, an offer the company made after taking heat for deliberately slowing down devices. A test run by a young woman typing at a feverish, unnatural pace on an iPad confirms that mine desperately needed the swap. As she typed, I panicked. What will I do in the mall for so long, and without a phone? How far the mall has fallen that I rack my brain for something to do here. Continue reading

Big Chicken

BookCoverMaryn McKenna escaped our notice until now, as did her recent book Big Chicken:

In this provocative narrative, acclaimed journalist Maryn McKenna reveals the fascinating history of chicken—and how the common backyard bird became an industrial commodity impacting human health around the world. Crucial to its meteoric rise: the routine use of antibiotics, a practice that would transform agriculture, change the world’s eating habits, and contribute to the deadly rise of drug-resistant infections around the globe.

Bringing us on an extraordinary journey from the vast poultry farms of the United States to laboratories, kitchens and sidewalk markets around the world, McKenna reveals how economic, political and cultural forces converged to make America’s favorite meat a hidden danger—and how companies, activists, farmers and chefs are carving a path back to better, safer food.

Named a Best Science Book of 2017 by Amazon, Smithsonian, and Science News; an Essential Science Read by Wired; a Best Health Book by the Toronto Globe and Mail; and a Best Food Book of 2017 by Civil Eats and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Antibiotics changed the world.

Then we gave them to the animals we eat.

This is the story of what happened next. Continue reading

Ask Whole Foods About Wonderful

oilag-reaction_teenfriends_2

How wonderful is that?!? An organization that has been digging into the question of where all that fracking water is going in recent years. Thanks to Food & Water Watch, one of the most vigilant watchdogs helping the public become aware of fracking’s potential dangers, for asking questions that we all have reason to care about. And since the answers are not so wonderful, they are choosing perfect market-based locations to ask regular folks whether they are aware of the very cozy relationship between fracking waste water and the food we eat. Even some certified organic foods, it turns out. The image above is from their current press release:

PomWashington, D.C. — Are families around the country—and around the globe—eating California produce grown with toxic water from oil drilling? If they consume Halos Mandarins, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Wonderful pistachios, Sunview Raisins, Bee Sweet citrus or Sutter Home wine, they almonds_bottommay well be. Those companies grow some of their products in four water districts in California’s Central Valley that buy wastewater from Chevron and other oil companies’ drill sites. Now, Food & Water Watch is announcing a campaign to ban the practice, which threatens our food, farm workers and the environment, with a new documentary by noted filmmaker Jon Bowermaster and a campaign video capturing shocked reactions from people who previewed the video last week in front of Whole Foods’ headquarters in Austin, Texas. [continued below]

Thanks to WNYC for this half hour in which we learned about the study. For a decade-old but still profile of the wonderful couple who we hope will come clean on this, take a look here:

fiji_bottle_top…Lynda and her creative team immediately set to work promoting the water’s “untainted” origins. (Fiji Water comes from an aquifer on the island of Viti Levu.) The bottle’s label was retooled: the image of a waterfall (Lynda: “Surface water? Yuck!”) was replaced with a bright-pink tropical flower and palm fronds, and the company’s slogan was changed from the ho-hum “Taste of Paradise” to the more direct “Untouched by man. Until you drink it.” Since the makeover, sales have improved by three hundred per cent…

Rich, as the saying goes. Continue reading

The Big Carbon Footprint For Mining Virtual Currency

merlin_76857994_5a73f5ad-7404-4ded-9163-c32094dae9b8-master675

A computer server farm in Iceland, dedicated to mining Bitcoin. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

Thanks to the New York Times for this story on how much electricity is required to create virtual currencies:

SAN FRANCISCO — Creating a new Bitcoin requires electricity. A lot of it.

merlin_126054002_a85682ec-bfd6-4e56-9357-292d1a1b4fe2-master768

An employee at a Bitmain facility in Inner Mongolia, one of the biggest Bitcoin farms in the world. Credit Giulia Marchi for The New York Times

In the virtual currency world this creation process is called “mining.” There is no physical digging, since Bitcoins are purely digital. But the computer power needed to create each digital token consumes at least as much electricity as the average American household burns through in two years, according to figures from Morgan Stanley and Alex de Vries, an economist who tracks energy use in the industry.

The total network of computers plugged into the Bitcoin network consumes as much energy each day as some medium-size countries — which country depends on whose estimates you believe. And the network supporting Ethereum, the second-most valuable virtual currency, gobbles up another country’s worth of electricity each day. Continue reading

Environmental Impact From Microwave Ovens

totalenvironmentThree scientists at the University of Manchester have shared their findings in a journal whose title we had not been aware of, but are glad to know is looking out for us all:

1-s2.0-S0048969717X00259-cov150hScience of the Total Environment is an international journal for publication of original research on the total environment, which includes the atmospherehydrospherebiospherelithosphere, and anthroposphere.

Since most readers of our pages likely use this type of oven on a daily basis, it seems worthy of a moment to read their findings as abstracted below:

Environmental assessment of microwaves and the effect of European energy efficiency and waste management legislation

Authored by Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, Joan Manuel F.Mendoza & Adisa Azapagic

130 M microwaves in the EU consume 9.4 TWh of electricity annually.

First LCA for microwaves to estimate the environmental effects of EU regulation

Standby Regulation will reduce impacts by 4–9% by 2020; WEEE Directive by ~ 0.3%.

Decarbonisation of electricity will reduce most impacts by 6–24% by 2020.

Eco-design regulation for microwaves should be developed to reduce resource use.

More than 130 million microwaves are affected by European Union (EU) legislation which is aimed at reducing the consumption of electricity in the standby mode (‘Standby Regulation’) and at more sustainable management of end-of-life electrical and electronic waste (‘WEEE Directive’). Continue reading

Alternatives To Dairy

19OATLY-1-master768.gif

Photo illustration by Tracy Ma/The New York Times; Alamy (hands)

ripple-cereal_vert-25580ec96d4795beae7106681f5f2dc412d7886d-s400-c85

Ripple’s pea-based milk contains 8 grams of protein per cup, the same amount as in a cup of cow’s milk.
Whitney Pipkin/NPR

This article on the subject of a new pea-based dairy alternative–not just milk for coffee or cereal but also thicker items like Greek-style yoghurt–reported by National Public Radio (USA), reminded us of the great gif showing the milking of oats. Which reminded us to read that article too. Both worth a read:

When did finding something to put in your coffee get so complicated?

For the lactose-intolerant or merely dairy-averse, there are more alternatives to good ol’ American cow’s milk than ever. First there were powdered “creamers,” with their troublesome corn syrup solids. Then came soy, which may come closest to the real thing in nutrients and consistency. Grocery stores now stock an army of nut milks — almond, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia, you name it — which can be too grainy, too thin or frankly too flavorful. Pea milk? Sounds like a kindergarten taunt. Coconut and rice milk are basically water. Hemp milk? For the birds … and the hippies. Continue reading

Scams Of Yore, Evolved

lead_960 (12)

Alexis C. Madrigal first showed up on our radar 5+ years ago, and is best known for his work at the Atlantic. We recently caught up on his history here, which is worth an hour if you like to geek out on any/all things longform (as we do, numerous posts will attest). He has fresh material that is worth a read, birds of a feather with reporting from a dozen years earlier on then-pernicious scams:

The Strange Brands in Your Instagram Feed

A new breed of online retailer doesn’t make or even touch products, but they’ve got a few other tricks for turning nothing into money.

It all started with an Instagram ad for a coat, the West Louis (TM) Business-Man Windproof Long Coat to be specific. It looked like a decent camel coat, not fancy but fine. And I’d been looking for one just that color, so when the ad touting the coat popped up and the price was in the double-digits, I figured: hey, a deal! Continue reading

More Information, Thank You

gettyimages-629786322-56167ac88fd815c0482912a5baea16972304ffc3-s1300-c85

Contradictory consumer demands for food labels are making some food companies re-think their alliance with the industry’s traditional lobbying group. miakievy/Getty Images

Food producers may not all, or always, appreciate how much information consumers want or need, but erring on the side of more in this case makes sense to us. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this story:

For at least the past decade, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has been the unrivaled voice of a vast industry, from neighborhood grocery stores to food manufacturing giants with supply chains that span the globe. Most recently, it’s been a powerful force in fighting proposals to require information about added sugar or GMOs on food labels.

untitled-1_sq-b58cbda94a29b6944b67706c24dcb43ed57e06fb-s400-c85Today, that colossus is teetering and facing questions about its future. Over the past six months, eight of GMA’s largest members have decided to drop their membership. Each defection was quickly revealed on the news site Politico. One industry insider says that he’s seen a list of another three companies that are considering leaving the association. Continue reading

New Vehicle Technology Makes Good Business Sense

Free parking and charging stations for electric cars in Oslo. Norway offers generous incentives that make the vehicles cheaper to buy, and other benefits once they are on the road. Credit Thomas Haugersveen for The New York Times

Norway’s public policy that puts environmentalism front and center stands in stark contrast to the obvious deconstruction of protections in this country.

In Norway, Electric and Hybrid Cars Outsell Conventional Models

Sales of electric and hybrid cars in Norway outpaced those running on fossil fuels last year, cementing the country’s position as a global leader in the push to restrict vehicle emissions.

Norway, a major oil exporter, would seem an unlikely champion of newer, cleaner-running vehicles. But the country offers generous incentives that make electric cars cheaper to buy, and provides additional benefits once the vehicles are on the road.

Countries around the world have ramped up their promotion of hybrid and electric cars. As China tries to improve air quality and dominate new vehicle technology, the government there wants one in five cars sold to run on alternative fuels by 2025France and Britain plan to end the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2040.

Norway is ahead of the rest of the world. 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

Poo-Power Innovations

Guardian Graphic

Biomethane is an age-old concept in much of what is frequently called the “developing world”, so it’s difficult to overstate the irony of “1st world” adoption. That said, it’s heartening to read of more projects aimed at maximizing poo’s full potential.

From stools to fuels: the street lamp that runs on dog do

A long winding road climbs into a gathering dusk, coming to an abrupt dead end in front of a house. Here, a solitary flickering flame casts out a warm glow, illuminating the nearby ridge line of the Malvern Hills.

Below the light sits a mysterious green contraption resembling a cross between a giant washing machine and a weather station. This is the UK’s first dog poo-powered street lamp, and it is generating light in more ways than one.

The idea seems simple enough: dog walkers deposit the product of a hearty walk into a hatch and turn a handle. The contents are then broken down by microorganisms in the anaerobic digester, producing methane to fuel the light, and fertiliser…

…Humans have used animal dung as fuel since the neolithic period, and have known how to get flammable gas from decaying organic matter since the 17th century. Small-scale anaerobic digesters are commonplace in many developing countries, while larger plants producing heat and electricity from animal manure and human sewage have long been used in the west.

Yet the energy in most excrement still goes to waste.  Continue reading

Water Independence, A Trend Worth Watching In 2018

03Water8-master675.jpg

At Opal Springs Water Company in Oregon, raw water is prepared for shipping to the company Live Water. Credit Leah Nash for The New York Times

Closing out 2017, a note on water. Nellie Bowles wrote this story, Unfiltered Fervor: The Rush to Get Off the Water Grid, for the Food section of the New York Times. It could just as well have been in either the Science or the Tech section.

One new technology allows anyone, in dry or humid climates, to produce and store their own drinking water. The story is in the Food section presumably because it is a luxury for the improvement of your drinking pleasure; but the implications for natural resource management are interesting. And what about the projects that societies have embarked upon, forever, to determine ever-better ways to distribute necessities like water?

SOURCE: a HydropanelTM that makes drinking water from sunlight and air

main-image

A standard residential SOURCE array is made up of two panels: one primary panel and one additional panel with array sizes designed to meet your drinking water needs.

  • Daily Production

    A standard array averages 4-10 liters each day or 8-20 16.9oz standard water bottles, depending on sunshine and humidity.

  • Footprint

    Each panel is 4 feet x 8 feet (1.2m x 2.4m) and a standard array contains 2 panels.

  • Water Storage

    Each panel holds 30 liters in a reservoir where it is mineralized and kept clean for optimal taste and health. Standard arrays have 60 liters of water storage capacity.

  • Power

    SOURCE utilizes solar power and a small battery to enable water production when the sun shines and water delivery on cloudy days or at night.

The story includes several technologies that seem worth knowing about:

Continue reading

Paying for the Birds You See?

Can we put a price tag on birds we see?

Image by the author

I recently came across an Oxford professor’s blog that revolves mostly around conservation and birding, and one of his posts was particularly interesting to me. In it, Professor Paul Jepson discusses the increasing presence of photography in the British birding sphere, and what bird photography means for the hobby of birding/birdwatching. I encourage you to read his article (I’ll put a link below), but will first share one idea that Jepson brings up toward the end of the piece, and which was very thought-provoking:

Bird photography is part of the socio-technological assembly that is shaping futures. If birdwatching is to be a cultural force in the twenty-first century, our bird reserves will need to embrace developments and directions in digital technologies. … My thought experiment imagines a system of pay-for nature hides with an observation tower, like the one in Muritz National Park outside Berlin, as its centre piece. Birding has a strong ‘nature as a public good’ mentality. While many bird photographers agree with this principle, they are also willing to pay for entry to the facilities and special places that enable them to get the shot they desire. Nature hides are popping up across Britain and 2017 hide day rates are £75 for the opportunity to photograph Common Kestrels Falco tinnunculus, £99 for Kingfishers and £150 for Black Grouse.

Although I enjoy taking photos of birds and sharing them online, I do not consider myself a bird photographer, partly because I don’t have the specialized gear (my camera is a point-and-shoot model, though its exceptional 65x optical zoom is useful for bird photos). That being said, Continue reading

Trees, Carbon-Neutral Energy, & Ambiguous Definitions

Logs_TimberYards_Finland_GettyImages-84157450_web16x9.jpg

Thanks to Fred Pearce over at Yale Environment360 for this puzzler:

Carbon Loophole: Why Is Wood Burning Counted as Green Energy?

A loophole in carbon-accounting rules is spurring a boom in burning wood pellets in European power plants. The result has been a surge in logging, particularly in the U.S. South, and new doubts about whether Europe can meet its commitments under the Paris accord. 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

An Interesting Alternative To Ayn Rand’s Prescription For The Future

171218_r31150

The Estonian government is so eager to take on big problems that many ambitious techies leave the private sector to join it.Illustration by Eiko Ojala

This is about people with an idea pursuing it with confidence in the ability of government to achieve something that its people want. Not everyone, everywhere, would want this to be sure. But it is a vote in favor of pursuing the common good together. It is worth the read, on a cold winter’s night (or wherever you may be) for a glimpse of the future for those in small, flexible places:

Estonia, the Digital Republic

Its government is virtual, borderless, blockchained, and secure. Has this tiny post-Soviet nation found the way of the future?

Up the Estonian coast, a five-lane highway bends with the path of the sea, then breaks inland, leaving cars to follow a thin road toward the houses at the water’s edge. There is a gated community here, but it is not the usual kind. The gate is low—a picket fence—as if to prevent the dunes from riding up into the street. The entrance is blocked by a railroad-crossing arm, not so much to keep out strangers as to make sure they come with intent. Beyond the gate, there is a schoolhouse, and a few homes line a narrow drive. From Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, you arrive dazed: trees trace the highway, and the cars go fast, as if to get in front of something that no one can see. Continue reading

Chocolate’s Future Is Ours To Write, Within Limits

 

Slowmelt

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

gettyimages-626378342_wide-4e7d50db9ab7b5dcd9578cdca115148a070224e7-s1300-c85

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

Bike-Share Good Samaritanism

171204_r31068illuweb

Collin Waldoch Illustration by Tom Bachtell

We linked out to stories about bike-sharing when it was relatively new in New York. This week, an enchanting short note on a peddler of angelic behavior, and a couple examples of people who have pedaled accordingly:

Hacking the Citi Bike Points System

A program offers modest benefits to riders who help rebalance the city’s network of bicycles. One man outdid its expectations.

By Ian Parker

On a recent Monday, Glenn Reinhart, a former salesman of chemicals for the cosmetics industry, and now, in his mid-fifties, a freelance karate instructor with a fair amount of leisure time, took twenty-two rides on Citi Bikes, one after another, and then went out to breakfast in Chelsea. He had arranged to meet Collin Waldoch, who runs Bike Angels, the Citi Bike program that awards points, redeemable for extended membership and other modest benefits (a commemorative pin; a white bike key), to riders who help the company rebalance its network of twelve thousand bikes. Angels earn points for taking bikes from full stations and parking them at empty ones. A ride from one to the other might earn two or three points. When the scheme was launched, this spring, Waldoch thought that someone might, in the course of a year, earn five hundred points. By the fall, Glenn Reinhart had earned nearly eight thousand—twice as many as anyone else—and Waldoch sent him an e-mail and invited him to breakfast. Continue reading