Feeding 7 Billion People

Farmer Doug Thomas holds rice at a storage facility near Olivehurst, California.

Farmer Doug Thomas holds rice © Drew Kelly for The Nature Conservancy

 Thanks to Cara Byington and her colleagues at Cool Green Science:

When They Said They Wanted to Rethink Agriculture, They Meant It

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All In, Eliminating Plastic Bags, Rwanda Is A Leader

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By The New York Times

Thanks to the New York Times for this success story from a small country in Africa that has been working its way steadfastly to global leadership, quietly but surely for the last decade-plus. Eliminating plastic bags from a country seems impossible, until you read how it was done:

GISENYI, Rwanda — They are sometimes tucked into bras, hidden in underwear or coiled tightly around a smuggler’s arms.

They’re not narcotics or even the illegally mined gold and diamonds that frequently make it across the border into Rwanda. But they are, at least in the eyes of Egide Mberabagabo, a watchful border guard, every bit as nefarious.

The offending contraband? Plastic bags.

“They’re as bad as drugs,” said Mr. Mberabagabo, one of a dozen border officials whose job it is to catch smugglers and dispose of the illicit plastic he finds. Continue reading

The Business Sense of Doing Good

The Google logo is spelled out in heliostats (mirrors that track the sun and reflect the sunlight onto a central receiving point) during a tour of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert near the California-Nevada border February 13, 2014. The project, a partnership of NRG, BrightSource, Google and Bechtel, is the world’s largest solar thermal facility and uses 347,000 sun-facing mirrors to produce 392 Megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power more than 140,000 homes. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters

The often maligned Calvin Coolidge quote the “Business of America is Business” takes on a positive note when we consider that in the current political climate many corporations are stepping up where the federal administration falls short.

American companies are still investing in renewable energy

After the November elections, many of us in the climate and energy fields were rightfully fearful. What would happen to international agreements to cut greenhouse gases? What would happen to funding for climate research? What would happen to the green energy revolution?

In most instances, Trump is worse than we could have imagined. But in one special area, the president may not matter. That is in the growth of corporate purchasing of renewable energy. It turns out there are factors that even he cannot stop that make choosing renewable energy an easy decision for many companies.

New evidence about the unstoppable renewable energy wave recently came out in a report that was released by Apex Clean Energy and the GreenBiz Group. These groups surveyed corporations to determine their future plans on renewable energy installation and adoption. They wanted to know whether these plans had changed in the past few years and what motivated their decisions to implement renewable energy strategies. The outcome of this survey is available here for people who want to read the entire document.

The groups surveyed 153 major corporations (both public and private), whose combined revenue was in excess of $250 million. Among these companies, 84% are “actively pursuing or considering purchasing renewable energy over the next 5-10 years.” Surprisingly, they found that 43% of the corporations intend to be more aggressive in their pursuit of renewable energy in the next two years. 87% of those actively pursuing renewable energy purchases stated that the election had no impact on their decision.

In fact, 11% were more inclined to purchase renewable energy. Continue reading

Honey With Urban Terroir

The bees’ home at the Javits. Beekeeping was illegal in New York until 2010 when the ban was lifted. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of bees, both environmentally and agriculturally.  So we’re suckers for happy bee stories, especially urban bees. Kudos to the New York City Board of Health for lifting the Giuliani-era ban against urban bee-keeping, not to mention the Javits Center green-roof sustainability project!

Atop a Manhattan Convention Center, a Harvest of Honey

Let us begin not with the who, which was several thousand bees and a bunch of people in anti-sting gear that looked like spacesuits, or the what, which was harvesting honey. Let us go directly to the where.

It was not a bosky setting that would bring to mind the Robert Frost poem about good fences and good neighbors, but the south roof of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s Far West Side. Here the neighbors are the unfinished towers of the Hudson Yards development. They ring what has become an urban meadow — the south roof, mostly covered by 6.75 acres of kaleidoscopic sedum. It is yellowish green. It will turn red in time for Christmas.

The bees have been in residence since spring. The first 12,000 came from California, transplanted in a three-pound container that looked like a shoe box with screens on both sides. They were placed in wooden hives, which look like stackable drawers. There were 60,000 to 80,000 by midsummer.

The accommodations are typical of urban apiaries. Liane Newton, the director of nycbeekeeping.org, who tends them, described her role as “convincing them they live in a tree trunk when they live in a file cabinet.”

Her persuasion seems to have paid off. “They made cells for closets, cells for babies, cells for storing pollen,” she reported one morning last week. “One amazing thing about bees is they have this architectural inclination.” Continue reading

Chile Finds A Better Path To Renewable Energy

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The first geothermal energy plant in South America is in Cerro Pabellón, Chile, 14,760 feet above sea level, surrounded by volcanoes. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Chile’s near catastrophe with hydroelectric energy, averted in part thanks to the efforts of friends in the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign, made us wonder whether Chile’s path to a greener future would be straight and narrow. Thanks to the New York Times and Ernesto Londoño we think we have strong evidence helping us with the answer:

Chile’s Energy Transformation Is Powered by Wind, Sun and Volcanoes

CERRO PABELLÓN, Chile — It looks and functions much like an oil drilling rig. As it happens, several of the men in thick blue overalls and white helmets who operate the hulking machine once made a living pumping crude.

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A worker inspecting solar panels in the Atacama Desert in Chile, one of the driest and sunniest places on Earth. The sun is so strong there that workers must wear protective suits and slather on thick layers of sunscreen. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

With the ability to power roughly 165,000 homes, the new plant is yet another step in Chile’s clean energy transformation. This nation’s rapidly expanding clean energy grid, which includes vast solar fields and wind farms, is one of the most ambitious in a region that is decisively moving beyond fossil fuels.

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Wind turbines in the Atacama Desert and other turbines along Chile’s 2,653-mile coast contribute to power to national grid. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Latin America already has the world’s cleanest electricity, having long relied on dams to generate a large share of its energy needs, according to the World Bank.

But even beyond those big hydropower projects, investment in renewable energy in Latin America has increased 11-fold since 2004, nearly double the global rate, according to a 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization. Chile, Mexico and Brazil are now among the top 10 renewable energy markets in the world.

Chile3So as Latin America embraces greener energy sources, government officials and industry executives in the region have expressed a sense of confusion, even bewilderment, with the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the climate changecommitments contained in the Paris Agreement, declare an end to the “war on coal” and take aim at American environmental regulations. Continue reading

Consumables Containing Consumables

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The design company Ecovative makes a variety of packaging materials using mycelium fungus. Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Thanks again to Stephanie Strom for a story about ecology that surprises:

Packaging Food With Food to Reduce Waste

For the environmentally conscious eater, they are among the most inconvenient truths: Too much food goes to waste. Too much packaging comes with the food. And too much of the packaging is made to last for ages.

Now there may be a single answer to all three problems: using excess food to make the packaging. Continue reading

Cornell’s Climate Friendly Construction

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A view of Manhattan from the roof of the Bridge building on the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. Photo VINCENT TULLO

When Cornell University competed in 2011 to develop an applied science and engineering campus in New York City, part of its pitch was that it would construct an academic building that would at least approach making as much energy as it used in a year, a concept known as net zero. It won. Then came the hard work of making that vision happen at the campus, known as Cornell Tech. Continue reading

Leading Legumes To A Better Place

 

Anthropocene’s Emma Bryce has summarized the science of Building a better soybean:

What will it take to build crops that can withstand future climate changes? A group of plant biologists think they might be on to a solution for soybeans. Using genetic engineering, they’ve created a plant whose yields remain unaffected by high-stress conditions. The key lies in a genetic tweak that makes the plant overexpress a particular enzyme, which is thought to boost the efficiency of their photosynthesis cycle and enhance seed production. Continue reading

Reanimating Coffee

fuel-gauge-coffee-mugConsidering the coffee farming and roasting operation, not to mention all the coffee served at Chan Chich Lodge; also considering the constant search for new options relevant to ecologically sensitive operations, this catches our attention. Thanks to Anthropocene and Prachi Patel:

A simpler route to biodiesel from used coffee grounds

The world produces almost 10 million tons of waste coffee grounds every year. Researchers have now discovered an efficient way to turn that waste into a green fuel. Their simple one-step process, outlined in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering, would save time and the cost of producing biodiesels from coffee. Continue reading

Food, Labels & Useful Information

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Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

We link to the occasional food trend article when it matches something we are working on, whether it is the Chan Chich Lodge culinary program or the food production at Gallon Jug Farm. This article, Whole Foods Would Look a Lot Different If It Were Science-Based, almost lost me with the first sentence, an annoying cliche within a sappy first couple paragraphs, but there is a useful case made starting soon after. We are dealing with these very questions so I can suggest the majority of the article starting after the jump:

Whole Foods used to be my idea of grocery heaven. Once upon a time, I shopped at the California Street location in San Francisco — it was light and airy with produce for miles. I knew the cheesemonger. I had philosophical conversations with the butcher. I stared longingly at the Le Creuset bakeware. The soap aisle smelled like lavender. Heaven.

But eventually, I fell out of love. Or, to be more specific, I changed my mind about organic food after reading the research: It turns out organic isn’t more nutritious or even necessarily better for the planet. So I pretty much stopped shopping at Whole Foods altogether. Continue reading

Agripreneurship On The Rise

This exciting project came to our attention a little over a year ago, and we’re excited to see that it’s going full steam ahead!

This is an Embark Fellowship campaign. If we raise our target, Brown University will donate $25,000 to our project!

What’s up with fish?

The world’s population is growing rapidly, and the global demand for animal protein—from fish to poultry, beef, and pork— is growing with it. But there’s a problem: animal feeds are made from wild-caught fish like anchovies and sardines. These fish are caught using highly destructive fishing methods that result in unintentional by-catch and the destruction of coral reefs. One third of global fish catch doesn’t go towards direct human consumption; it goes to feeding animals. As a result, more than 85% of the world’s fisheries are exploited. We are feeding fish to other animals, and it doesn’t make sense.

Meanwhile, the world’s population is increasing rapidly and is projected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050. We desperately need a new way to feed a growing population that is not at odds with the health of our oceans.

Meet the black soldier fly.

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One Possible Future of Fish

Open-ocean aquaculture could reduce environmental concerns associated with aquaculture in coastal waters. Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries.

We’re always looking for well-balanced discussions on innovative but occasionally controversial forms of food production.  Open ocean aquaculture is an example, and we appreciate the Food & Environment Reporting Network for offering just that, suggesting that many of the environmental concerns with aquaculture are mitigated by using deep water locations.

President of the New Orleans–based Gulf Seafood Institute, Harlon Pearce knows better than anyone that wild fisheries alone can’t supply U.S. consumers’ growing demand for fish. Which is why he’s doing his best to bring everyone to the table to achieve one goal: farming the Gulf of Mexico. Continue reading

Lowly Creature May Represent Saving Grace

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Wayne Boo/USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this new appreciation for an otherwise underappreciated creature:

A Worm May Hold The Key To Biodegrading Plastic

MERRIT KENNEDY

People around the world use more than a trillion plastic bags every year. They’re made of a notoriously resilient kind of plastic called polyethylene that can take decades to break down.

But a humble worm may hold the key to biodegrading them. Continue reading

Model Mad, Markets

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Leigh Wells

On a day often reserved for gags and laughs, we instead repeat, without much cheer but plenty of conviction, two of our favorite words: entrepreneurial conservation. Two opinion pieces today highlight the role of both government and market forces as vehicles of environmental protection. When government must take action, as John D. Leshy and Mark Squillace point out, there is a law that allows the President of the United States to protect nature in the public interest. That law is endangered, and it is not okay, these model mad legal scholars remind us. They also point out that markets have tended to follow and reward the actions Presidents have taken to protect natural monuments in the last 111 years since that law was enacted.

A former Mayor of New York City, who also has credibility when it comes to market forces, reminds us in another editorial that with or without a President’s leadership we can still make progress on our environmental commitments. But only if all the rest of us are fully on board, and ready to shake things up when needed, providing all the more reason for each of us to keep all these model mad examples fresh in mind. If you only have time for one quick read at the moment, make this the one:

Climate Progress, With or Without Trump

Healthy Prairies & Space Cowboys

Thanks to Cool Green Science:

Space Cowboys: A New Generation of Prairie Keepers

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Jimmy’s Sunny Disposition

What a decent man, we say every time we see news of Jimmy Carter. This story is no exception, and we especially appreciate the example he is setting with this action:

PLAINS, Ga. — The solar panels — 3,852 of them — shimmered above 10 acres of Jimmy Carter’s soil where peanuts and soybeans used to grow. The panels moved almost imperceptibly with the sun. And they could power more than half of this small town, from which Mr. Carter rose from obscurity to the presidency. Continue reading

Clean Energy, Nordic Style

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Hunderfossen Dam, Norway via Sigurd Rage/Flickr

Thanks to Anthropocene:

Nordic countries offer important lessons for clean-energy transition

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Adaptation, Climate Change, Winery Operations

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Solar panels dot the buildings at the family’s Carneros Hills Winery. Jason Henry for The New York Times

When a family does its homework on the property that represents its livelihood and our own appreciation for their craft, we take note just as we do when the professor teaches:

Falcons, Drones, Data: A Winery Battles Climate Change

Jackson Family Wines is among California
winemakers employing both high-tech and old-school
techniques to adapt to hotter, drier conditions.

By

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Harvested grapes. Jackson Family Wines is one of the largest family-owned winemakers in the country. Jason Henry for The New York Times

On a misty autumn morning in Sonoma County, Calif., Katie Jackson headed into the vineyards to assess the harvest. It was late in the season, and an army of field workers was rushing to pick the grapes before the first rains, however faint, began falling.

But on this day, Ms. Jackson, the vice president for sustainability and external affairs at Jackson Family Wines, was not just minding the usual haul of cabernet, chardonnay and merlot grapes. She also checked on the sophisticated network of systems she had put in place to help crops adapt to a changing climate.

Continue reading

Understanding The Solar-Carbon Threshold

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Image: Daniel Parks/Flickr

We are constantly playing catch up with the terminology, let alone the science, of environmental efficiency in all its forms and considerations. Anthropocene delivers the daily goods, in the form of a summary of an environmentally-oriented scientific study, that we constantly find useful:

Solar power will cross a carbon threshold by 2018

How Much Energy Does A Bicycle Produce?

We had been wondering this too, we admit:

An NPR listener (with what may be the best Twitter handle ever — Booky McReaderpants) inquired whether a home can be powered by bicycle-powered generator.

It’s an interesting issue about energy and the modern world. And the short answer comes from just running the numbers.

A typical house in the U.S. uses about 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy in a month. So — to Booky McReaderpants’ question — could you generate that much power all by yourself on stationary bike?

No.

Nope.

Not even close. Continue reading