The Most Interesting News Today

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The greenhouse in Hinwil where Climeworks uses carbon dioxide pulled from the air to grow fruits and vegetables. Luca Locatelli for The New York Times

When this platform started in 2011 it was two young men, one a senior at Amherst College and the other a sophomore at Cornell University, who thought it would be useful to share their experiences with other students. It continued beyond their summer internships. At some point, hard to pinpoint the date, it started serving as a daily exercise for me. It became an exercise in finding something in the world that is worthy of attention, as much as possible something that inspires hope rather than reinforces dread (though that has been unavoidable from time to time).

The title I give to today’s post is impossible to justify with any metrics, but read on and you may see my point. Jon Gertner, for this first time featured in our pages, and for what is likely the longest of any longform treatments of any topic in the New York Times, thank you for making it about this:

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Christoph Gebald, left, and Jan Wurzbacher, the founders of Climeworks, at their plant in Hinwil, Switzerland. Luca Locatelli for The New York Times

The Tiny Swiss Company That Thinks It Can Help Stop Climate Change

Two European entrepreneurs think they can remove carbon from the air at prices cheap enough to matter.

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A pilot project at a Swiss university that uses Climeworks equipment to make methane out of airborne CO₂. Luca Locatelli for The New York Times

Just over a century ago in Ludwigshafen, Germany, a scientist named Carl Bosch assembled a team of engineers to exploit a new technique in chemistry. A year earlier, another German chemist, Fritz Haber, hit upon a process to pull nitrogen (N) from the air and combine it with hydrogen (H) to produce tiny amounts of ammonia (NH₃). But Haber’s process was delicate, requiring the maintenance of high temperatures and high pressure. Bosch wanted to figure out how to adapt Haber’s discovery for commercial purposes — as we would say today, to “scale it up.” Anyone looking at the state of manufacturing in Europe around 1910, Bosch observed, could see that the task was daunting: The technology simply didn’t exist.

Over the next decade, however, Bosch and his team overcame a multitude of technological and metallurgical challenges. He chronicled them in his 1932 acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Chemistry — an honor he won because the Haber-Bosch process, as it came to be known, changed the world. His breakthrough made possible the production of ammonia on an industrial scale, providing the world with cheap and abundant fertilizer. The scientist and historian Vaclav Smil called Haber-Bosch “the most important technical invention of the 20th century.” Bosch had effectively removed the historical bounds on crop yields, so much so that he was widely credited with making “bread from air.” By some estimates, Bosch’s work made possible the lives of more than two billion human beings over the last 100 years. Continue reading

Longform & Shortform & Waning & Waxing

p06yh66g.jpgJames Rebanks had come to my attention twice before. I found him compelling both times but because he was described in shorthand as the tweeting shepherd, my interest waned as quickly as it waxed. Now, after listening to him on a third occasion, and because of his music choices (on a show that illuminates a person beyond their words, through their musical taste), he won my attention back.

Mainly, I was intrigued that he brings his experience to bear in a consultancy that sounds like it has plenty of overlap with our own practice. And once I discovered that he had taken a break from tweeting I decided to venture onto that platform, which I rarely do, to try to understand that part of him better. And that led further afield and allows me to suggest that longform communication suits him better than shortform:

Meat Where They Are

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Focusing less on the meat-free or health aspects of plant-based dishes, like this jackfruit burger — and more on their flavor, mouthfeel and provenance — could go a long way toward getting meat lovers to choose these options more often. That’s according to research by the World Resources Institute’s Better Buying Lab in conjunction with food chains, marketers and behavioral economists. Westend61/Getty Images

As much as I would like to dedicate another post to a shout out for Carolyn Kormann, since her latest posting is on a topic I am following closely, something else seems even more of the moment.

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Against the image of the millennial left, Pete Buttigieg appears to be a relatively prosaic Presidential candidate, but, in his own understated way, he is suggesting a sharp break with the past. Illustration by Tyler Comrie; Source Photograph by Alex Wong / Getty

Just after reading this brief profile of a remarkable person, I read something as seemingly different as could be in this story about changing food preferences by Maria Godoy. In the profile, this quote two thirds of the way through stood out:

…“So much of politics is about people’s relationships with themselves,” Buttigieg said. “You do better if you make people feel secure in who they are.”…

In the food story, just reading the caption in the image above you get the same message: meet people where they are. As sensible in politics as in changing food preferences. For all our attention to the important ecological reasons to reduce or even better to eliminate animal protein consumption, better to appeal to what most people most quickly respond to, namely their existing preferences. Meat where they are seems like the best option, so show how another option is tastier, healthier, or whatever is the most salient point for a particular type of consumer according to Godoy’s reporting:

…”The language for meat, and beef in particular, just sounds so much more delicious,” says Daniel Vennard. And labels like “meat-free,” “vegan,” and “vegetarian” tend to be turn offs for consumers. “People don’t create positive associations with how it’s going to taste and don’t feel it’s very indulgent.”

And that’s a real problem for Vennard: As head of the World Resources Institute’s Better Buying Lab, it’s his job to work with food companies, behavioral economists and marketing experts to find ways to get people to eat more sustainably. Or, as he puts it, to make “this party sound even better than the other party.”…

Epic Waste, Cowboys & Spaceships

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Slat cares deeply about the environment, but, for him, the appeal of cleaning the oceans is also about puzzle solving. Illustration by Cristiana Couceiro

In the pantheon of writers we have linked out to since 2011, of those who focus on science and/or environmental issues Carolyn Kormann is a relatively recent arrival. Since I started noticing her work three years ago she has started 2019 with an especially strong duo of stories. One is a longform profile and a must-read if you have been even just glancing at the headlines about giant garbage patches swirling in the ocean. How to deal with epic waste after the fact, after the out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach that has been building this mess for decades, is no simple matter. Nor is the man she introduces us to.

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Last year, the U.S.’s carbon-dioxide emissions increased by an estimated 3.4 per cent, the second-largest gain in the past two decades.Photograph by Fernando Moleres / Panos Pictures / Redux

The profile of Slat is compelling, disturbing and inconclusive–hallmarks of the type of profile I most appreciate when the subject involves seemingly intractable environmental challenges. The other item is shorter, with a pair of metaphors for economic periods that I wish I had known earlier. If you only have time for one, read about William Nordhaus’s many contributions to the otherwise dismal science, especially his description of the economic transformation from my lifetime to that of the next generation:

The False Choice Between Economic Growth and Combatting Climate Change 

In 1974, the economist William Nordhaus described the transition from a “cowboy economy” to a “spaceship economy.” In the former, he wrote, “we could afford to use our resources profligately,” and “the environment could be used as a sink without becoming fouled.” But, in the spaceship economy, “great attention must be paid to the sources of life and to the dumps where our refuse is piled.” He added, “Things which have traditionally been treated as free goods—air, water, quiet, natural beauty—must now be treated with the same care as other scarce goods.” Toward the end of his landmark paper, “Resources as a Constraint on Growth,” Nordhaus discussed the possible adverse effects of energy consumption, most notably the “greenhouse effect.” Continue reading

Megafauna’s Neglected Cousin, Microflora

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Botanist Steve Perlman rappels into the Kalalau Valley, a biodiversity hotspot on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. COURTESY OF BRYCE JOHNSON/FLUX HAWAII

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A botanist collects pollen from the flower of Brighamia insignis. NATIONAL TROPICAL BOTANICAL GARDEN

The work described in this article may explain why I first missed the story when it was published in October. The heroics get lost in the delicacy. My attention, like that of many people who are fortunate enough to have plenty of exposure to the natural world, gravitates to megafauna. And next in line for our attention is usually the rest of the fauna. But without flora, none of that fauna would be possible. And so our concern for biodiversity, and perhaps especially for the hotspots of biodiversity, should reflect an equal gravitational pull. So, my thanks to Yale e360 for this story:

Extreme Botany: The Precarious Science of Endangered Rare Plants

They don’t make the headlines the way charismatic animals such as rhinos and elephants do. But there are thousands of critically endangered plants in the world, and a determined group of botanists are ready to go to great lengths to save them.

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A scientist with the Plant Extinction Prevention Program climbs through remote Hawaiian ecosystems to study endangered plant species. PEPP

To save plants that can no longer survive on their own, Steve Perlman has bushwhacked through remote valleys, dangled from helicopters, and teetered on the edge of towering sea cliffs. Watching a video of the self-described “extreme botanist” in actio­­n is not for the faint-hearted. “Each time I make this journey I’m aware that nature can turn on me,” Perlman says in the video as he battles ocean swells in a kayak to reach the few remaining members of a critically endangered species on a rugged, isolated stretch of Hawaiian coastline. “The ocean could suddenly rise up and dash me against the rocks like a piece of driftwood.”

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The plant known as cabbage-on-a-stick (Brighamia insignis) has been grown at Limahuli Garden & Preserve on Kauai, which is within the historic range of the species. SEANA WALSH

When he arrives at his destination, Perlman starts hauling himself up an impossibly steep, razor-sharp cliff 3,000 feet above the sea without a rope, his fingers sending chunks of rock tumbling down to the waters below. Finally, he reaches the plants and painstakingly transfers pollen from the flowers of one to those of another to ensure that the species can perpetuate itself. At the end of the season, he will return to collect any seeds they were able to produce. Continue reading

Save The Waves, Stop The Seawall

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Grass bales intended to prevent erosion, in place last month at the Trump resort in Doonbeg, Ireland. Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

I cannot explain why of all the mailing lists in all the world, most of which I opt out of preemptively and nearly all of which I opt out of within a week or two–I have remained on this mailing list since its inception. And this call to action catches my attention enough that I am passing it along. I first heard of this issue from Save the Waves a couple years ago. Then I noticed it in the news late the same year (click the image to the left), and again about a year ago there was this from Save the Waves. Now, one more time before it is too late, here is a copy/paste of the email from this week:

The Fight Against Trump’s Irish Seawall.

The ongoing campaign #NatureTrumpsWalls continues! Save The Waves Coalition and local partners urge careful consideration from Ireland’s national planning appeals board in the case against Trump International Golf Links’ seawall in Doonbeg, Ireland.

If approved, the proposed project would allow two seawalls to be built on a public beach to provide ‘coastal erosion management’ for Trump’s private golf resort and cause profound negative impact on Doughmore Beach – a popular surf break and coastline for surfers and beach goers.

The case is still left undecided one year after the appeal. Save The Waves continues to implore the Appeals Board to hear the case and recognize the severe implications of the project on the surrounding coastline.

Learn more about #NatureTrumpsWalls and the appeal here.

Rutabaga’s Moment In The Light

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Rutabaga tagliatelle, from Olmstead, in Brooklyn.Photograph by Evan Sung

In the interest of cutting back meat consumption, my eye is easily caught these days by pretty shiny things, like the image above, but even more so by rich description, especially when the history of a food is illuminated. This brief history of one root vegetable, accompanied by a couple of beautiful photos, led me to the book below right. Click the book image to go to the source. RutaB.jpg

The original is in a collection akin to the one where Seth did his History honors thesis, and akin to the one where some of my doctoral dissertation‘s historic data was sourced (if you are a Cornell geek or library geek scroll upward from the cover page to see the details). Thanks to Helen Rosner once again brilliantly for getting me exploring:

The Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin was born in Basel in 1560, and he dedicated his life to obsessively cataloguing the vegetable world. To present-day historians, he’s notable primarily for his botanical thesaurus “Pinax Theatri Botanici” (“An Illustrated Exposition of Plants”), published in 1623. But, among cooks, he’s sometimes recalled for his lesser work, published in 1620: “Prodromos Theatri Botanici” (“Prologue to the Exposition of Plants”), a compendium of flora in which he describes a plant with vivid yellow flowers, a spray of leaves, and massive, hairy roots “more or less similar to those of turnip or carrots.” It was a specimen that had never before appeared in any scientific list of plants: the rutabaga.

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The rutabaga is a culinary underdog. It struggles to shine among its fellow root vegetables.Photograph by Matthias Haupt / Picture Press / Redux

The annals of botany abound with claims that Bauhin was not only rutabaga’s biographer but also its inventor: that he found it growing wild and domesticated it; that he was a civic-minded scientist seeking a cold-resistant turnip to feed his chilly countrymen and not (more likely) a monomaniacal scholar who spent his life ensconced in an herbarium, scrivening endless latinate lists of plant names. “The turnip is older than history,” the caption on a color plate in a 1949 issue of National Geographic declares. “The rutabaga almost modern.” In fact, the vegetable has been around at least since ancient-Roman times, when the naturalist Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century, described an edible root “between a radish and a rape”—meaning the plant from which rapeseed oil derives, which is a cultivar of the same species. Bauhin writes that in his time the vegetable was widely grown in “the cold Noric fields of Bohemia,” where it was eaten pickled or mashed and was called simply “root” by its cultivators. Continue reading

Nutrition & Conservation

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To help protect the planet and promote good health, people should eat less than 1 ounce of red meat a day and limit poultry and milk, too. That’s according to a new report from some of the top names in nutrition science. People should instead consume more nuts, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, the report says. The strict recommended limits on meat are getting pushback. Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61

Preparing ahead for a meal to be cooked today, I was reading this recipe, whose image (below) was competing for my attention with the image above. The picture above is eye-catching, at least to me, a visual cue leading me to the type of meal I should be thinking about more often. It is a big picture picture. I have red lentils in the cupboard, and I intend to prepare them today, so the recipe won the race for my attention.

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Melissa Clark’s red lentil soup.CreditJoseph De Leo for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.

The story by National Public Radio (USA) waited. It is about diet, with the kind of explanatory information that motivates me to find lentils more appealing, and to understand why meals like this should dominate the weekly menu:

What we eat – and how our food is produced – is becoming increasingly politicized.

Why? More people are connecting the dots between diet and health – not just personal health, but also the health of the planet. And the central thesis that has emerged is this: If we eat less meat, it’s better for both.

So, how much less? A new, headline-grabbing report — compiled by some of the top names in nutrition science — has come up with a recommended target: Eat less than half an ounce of red meat per day. That works out to about 3.5 ounces — or a single serving of red meat — per week. And it’s far less red meat than Americans currently consume on average: between an estimated 2 and 3 ounces per day. Continue reading

Hill Culture Contemplation

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The Hutchison Memorial Hut, colloquially called the Hutchie Hut, illuminated by moonlight in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park. Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

How did Stephen Hiltner know? I was just looking through photos from the 2009 edition of the Patagonia Expedition Race, and remembering the huts along the way. They were perfect places to escape the realities of the rest of the world, in order to contemplate more clearly. With perspective. They could come in handy for plenty of folks these days, I am sure. Seems certain to me now that those huts at the southern tip of the South American continent were built by folks from the hills sampled in the story below:

In Britain, Enraptured by the Wild, Lonely and Remote

Rustic shelters called bothies — more than 100 of which are scattered throughout England, Wales and Scotland — are an indispensable, if little-known, element of British hill culture.

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Warnscale Head at night. Since bothies are often built with local stones, they’re easily camouflaged in their surrounding landscapes. Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

 

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Shenavall Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

By the time the tiny hut came into view, nestled high in a corrie in Scotland’s 1,748-square-mile Cairngorms National Park, I’d trekked for nearly nine miles, three of which, regrettably, I’d had to navigate after nightfall. The hike, through a broad valley in the Eastern Highlands called Glen Derry, carried me past groves of Scots pines and over a series of streams, some of which, lined with slick steppingstones, made for precarious crossings. All the while, two rows of smooth, eroded mountain peaks enclosed me in an amphitheater of muted colors: hazel-hued heather, golden grasses. Though much of my walk was solitary, the flickering glow in the hut’s main window, I knew, meant I’d have some company for the night and the warmth of a fire to greet me. Continue reading

Sloths, Cecropia & Cacao

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A sloth in Costa Rica.  Karen Reyes

I had never heard the name guarumo for this tree before. Cecropia is the name we have commonly heard for it in Costa Rica. Veronique Greenwood, who we have linked to twice until now, has contributed more than vocabulary to me through this article. I am particularly thankful for the realization that cacao can be more useful than I had been aware. Beyond the benefits of being grown organically it may play a key role in regenerative forest development. This, entrepreneurial conservation in mind, must become a variable by which Organikos sources chocolate in Costa Rica:

Where Sloths Find These Branches, Their Family Trees Expand

A study showed that when some animals find a crucial resource, they can survive in changing environments and even thrive.

Look closely up in the trees of a shade-grown cacao plantation in eastern Costa Rica, and you’ll see an array of small furry faces peering back at you. Those are three-toed sloths that make their homes there, clambering ever so slowly into the upper branches to bask in the morning sun. You might also spot them munching on leaves from the guarumo tree, which shades the cacao plants. Continue reading

Golf & Its Discontents

Thanks to Yale e360, with this headline below I found my way to the video above and the website where the video is hosted:

California Teen Finds Thousands of Golf Balls Releasing Microplastics into Ocean

Reading further, I sensed that Yale e360 was being a bit polite saying “thousands” — more than 50,000 balls have already been extracted over two years. The article linked to National Public Radio’s coverage of the same story, with this slightly more aggressive headline:

Teenage Diver Finds Tons Of Golf Balls Rotting Off California

During my PhD years I got to be reasonably competent at the game of golf. I can say I even loved the game. One odd bi-product of my dissertation was that I learned of the perils to the planet from out of control golf course development. Then I felt compelled to give up the game. (I did play a bunch during the mid-1990s, in Costa Rica, as I slowly learned of those perils.) Recently I found the clubs I used to play with, and the shoes, while cleaning out a store room in Costa Rica. I left them there.

To this day I have some close friends who play golf. I never comment on this topic in front of them, because my message is easily misconstrued. I am not against all golf. I just think there are more than enough courses already built on this planet. A moratorium on building more would make me happy. My friends already have more than enough courses to play on. Anyway, this topic is of interest now for a new, very specific reason. And it comes as a bit of a surprise what a big problem golf balls are in the ocean. The website of the organization that is featured in both articles can be reached by clicking the image below:

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I remember advertisements from not that long ago that encouraged you to daydream about hitting balls endlessly into the ocean from cruise ship voyages with golf tees on the back of the ship. At first I thought maybe that kind of weird pleasure was the culprit, considering all the other dirty outcomes of cruising. But it’s complicated, as I learned from The Plastic Pickup website:

Golf1.jpgIn the spring of 2016, my dad (Mike Weber) and I (Alex Weber) were freediving along the central coast of California in the shallow waters adjacent to the Pebble Beach golf course, when we came across a discovery that had never been reported before. Thousands of golf balls blanketed the seafloor, and inhabited nearly every crack and crevice in the underwater and onshore environment. The overabundance of inorganic materials was overwhelming but for a second it did not phase us. As we began diving to the bottom to collect the balls, we realized what perfect freediving training it was and the whole operation felt like a fun game; we were having a blast. But soon, the enormity and vast scale of the pollution set in and it made me feel sick to my stomach. To preface this day, for a few years prior I had been spending at least an hour a day down at the beach collecting golf3microplastics and nurdles after heavy storms would wash them ashore. As a kid I was raised in the sea, boogie boarding everyday after school in kindergarten, scuba diving as soon as I was allowed to, and spending each summer day swimming offshore to hang out with dolphins and swim through giant kelp forests. To me the ocean was a peaceful home as well as my favorite teacher, so the discovery of such a large scale underwater plastic problem both shocked me and also captivated my curiosity. What began as a day of freediving resulted in a project that has changed my life ever since.

golf2The next dive-able day, we were underwater early in the morning equipped with mesh bags and a new diver, Jack Johnston. Jack and I had been long time friends since middle school, and spent all our time together either underwater or on mountains, so he didn’t need much convincing to come along. Jack’s reaction was similar to mine, but his wildly curious mind helped him stay positive and motivated. That day we collected nearly 2,000 golf balls which was just the start of what grew into The Plastic Pick-Up. As we continued diving, we were not only collecting golf balls, but data too…

Read the whole story here. And if that interests you, there is another website that mentions a different Alex and his buddy Andrew who have also found a mission-driven business focused on ocean cleanup:

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The story begins when Alex and Andrew take a surf trip…

to Bali Indonesia that would inevitably change their lives and the fate of the ocean. Devastated by the amount of plastic in the ocean, they set out to find out why no one was doing anything about it. Continue reading

A Pop-Up Vision Of Nature’s Future

 

Michelle Nijhuis came to my attention in 2014 by making me laugh. She has since been featured in our pages too many times to count. Now, after all those previous (nine, but who’s counting?) shout outs I thank her for bringing to my attention a book that makes me smile at the same time it makes me wince:

…Though Beyond the Sixth Extinction can be enjoyed solely for its dystopian yuks, its elegant paper sculptures tell a deeper story. The book doesn’t spend much time blaming humans for the world it imagines, or spell out exactly what has befallen Homo sapiens during the nearly three millennia between 2019 and 4847. But it does hint at a world in which the human footprint has been radically reduced. Chicago transformed into the diminished district of Cago, and life to some extent has moved on without us…

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The rex roach is one of many lively species that inhabit the Cago district in the year 4847. PAPER ENGINEERING © SHAWN SHEEHY / CANDLEWICK PRESS

076368788X.jpgWhen I first saw something vaguely akin some years ago, the creative approach to a dark topic made me smile. This time, I am drawn in by an artist’s unique vision of the future as it relates to the natural world, and my reaction is to think while smiling.

So, off to Candlewick Press (click the image of the book to the left). Even though I am not inclined to dystopia, I like what the author / artist / pop-up engineer says about what looks to be its hand-made progenitor:

popupbookIn his book The Sixth Extinction, Richard Leakey describes five major catastrophes in Earth’s history that led to significant extinctions—the last of which was the meteor impact that eliminated the dinosaurs. He theorizes that the sixth big extinction has already begun, and that it is human-authored. Be it through over-hunting, global warming, or habitat destruction, humans have the power to destroy species at alarming rates.

PopupBook2.jpgEvolutionary theorists like Stephen Jay Gould have studied and written about the speciation that followed these previous die-offs, like the mammalian bloom that followed the extinction of the dinosaurs. I myself wonder which species might survive and flourish in a new environment if humans are successful in instigating a profound die-off. I wonder what anatomical adaptations they might acquire in their proliferation.

popupbook3All of the creatures in this book are based on organisms that have high survival ratings, including: ubiquity (or nearly so), omnivory (linked to high intelligence), adaptability (especially to human-made habitats), and escape mobility. Since I am interested in representing a single system, they also had to have the potential to entertain plausible interdependencies.

popupbook4Though the content of this book is bleak, the tone is cautiously optimistic. Some ecological theorists believe that humans—being the most adaptable species in the history of the planet—will be the very last species to be exterminated, but there is still hope that a sustainable balance can be found between human resource use and the resource use of everything else. Continue reading

Hunting Wild Coffee

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Drying coffee beans in Ethiopia. More than half of all species are at risk of vanishing in the wild because of climate change and deforestation. Maheder Haileselassie/Reuters

As much as I thought I learned in the last year about coffee, I got a hint just now, reading the article below, how steep my learning curve remains. 124 species of coffee? So much to hunt, so little time! Thanks to Somini Sengupta for this story:

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Picking coffee berries on a farm in Ethiopia. Maheder Haileselassie/Reuters

Aaron Davis, a British botanist, has spent 30 years trekking across forests and farms to chronicle the fate of one plant: coffee.

He has recorded how a warming planet is making it harder to grow coffee in traditional coffee-producing regions, including Ethiopia, the birthplace of the world’s most popular bean, arabica. He has mapped where farmers can grow coffee next: basically upcountry, where it’s cooler. He has gone searching for rare varieties in the wild. Continue reading

Walking, Rights & Ways

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Going for an unremarkable walk in the English countryside has a lot in common with other old British freedoms. Everyone swears by it, though no one knows quite how it works. Photograph by Education Images / UIG / Getty

As someone who walks 5-10 miles most days, I am always looking for new things to think about, or to pay attention to during my walking. In the olden days I was left to my own thoughts and in recent days I am podcast-fueled. But some days I resist the earbuds and instead focus thought on a particular thing. One of my favorite pathways through the mountains where we live was fenced off in recent years, which already was on my mind before reading the article below. And I love the idea of an unremarkable walk, which my daily walks are, except that I have gotten to know most of the families who live in the mountains near us only by walking and having the chance to say hello. Which is a remarkable side benefit of trying to live now without owning a car. Thanks to Sam Knight for this other perspective on how to think about this thing:

The Search for England’s Forgotten Footpaths

Nineteen years ago, the British government passed one of its periodic laws to manage how people move through the countryside. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act created a new “right to roam” on common land, opening up three million acres of mountains and moor, heath and down, to cyclists, climbers, and dog walkers. It also set an ambitious goal: to record every public path crisscrossing England and Wales by January 1, 2026. The British Isles have been walked for a long time. They have been mapped, and mapped again, for centuries. But that does not mean that everything adds up, or makes sense. Between them, England and Wales have around a hundred and forty thousand miles of footpaths, of which around ten per cent are impassable at any time, with another ten thousand miles that are thought to have dropped off maps or otherwise misplaced. Finding them all again is like reconstructing the roots of a tree. In 2004, a government project, named Discovering Lost Ways, was given a fifteen-million-pound budget to solve the problem. It ended four years later, overwhelmed. “Lost Footpaths to Stay Lost,” the Daily Telegraph reported. Since then, despite the apparent impossibility of the task, the 2026 cutoff has remained on the statute books, leaving the job of finding and logging the nation’s forgotten paths to walkers, horse people, and other obsessives who can’t abide the muddled situation. Continue reading

Organikos & Coffee Circa 2019

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Organikos2.jpgWhen we returned from India in 2017 I mentioned the word organikos in the context of coffee. I am remembering now that just prior to moving to India, in early 2010 we were completing our second year assisting the Patagonia Expedition Race–we not only assisted with their contracting a title sponsor, but Organikos was itself a Race sponsor. Somewhere I have photographs of myself serving coffee to racers, Race staff, and with our logo displayed at the finish line where we also served coffee (even as champagne corks were popping in the pre-dawn darkness). I will post those photos another time, but the reason those images come to mind is that we had developed a graphic statement of how we wanted Organikos to look on a coffee label, and it is very different from what we want today. 2019 is starting out with its own equivalent of corks popping, as last evening we finalized the first draft of what our first coffee shipment in Costa Rica is going to look like. You saw it here first (label feedback welcome):

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A Sense Of Costa Rica

SilkCoastal1Amie and I recently met with an artist who paints on silk. In a post about Authentica after that I displayed a couple of her pieces that feature coffee farm themes, and here are a couple more featuring coastal themes. By introducing Authentica in these pages I also want to link it to our practice, over the last 20+ years, of entrepreneurial conservation. We have posted frequently on this theme over the years. Less frequently we have mentioned sense and sensibility, words we work by.

SilkCoastal2Authentica will be an extension of our work in the realm of experiences for travelers away from home, and our assumption is that most people want to sense how a place they visit is different from where they normally live. Commonalities are also helpful for the sake of comfort and the travelers we have gotten to know through our practice in the last 2+ decades are much like us: interested in the balance between things we already understand and things that make us wonder.

When I saw these silk pieces I had a sense of Costa Rica that would be difficult to find words for. The artist has an ecological and socially responsible orientation, backed with actions that represent what make this place unique. This is the aspect of Costa Rica that inspires and motivates not only those of us who have chosen to live here, but those who choose to visit here. We want such visitors to have the opportunity to take home with them items like these painted silks, that somehow represent Costa Rica. Little reminders.

New Ways Of Eating Old Dishes

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Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Hilary Robertson.

Tejal Rao, the California restaurant critic at The New York Times and a columnist for The New York Times Magazine, came to my attention not long ago. At that time I did not look at her background and thought perhaps she was a science writer, based on that story. We are committed as much as anything in these pages to featuring stories by people who explain science well to a lay audience. But as of this week I realize she is a food writer and if you believe in James Beard awards she must be one of the best. That makes me think we will see more of her work because that is another of our favorite things. As I went through her website to read some of her earlier work, this story immediately stood out because of the title: Not Your Dickensian Bowl of Porridge. And that has been a favorite topic of mine since introducing savory porridge on our menu in Kerala a few years back. I cannot wait to test this out, even though I favor oats for my porridge:

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Credit Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Hilary Robertson.

“How much time do you have?” Minh Phan wanted to know, when I showed up at her restaurant in Los Angeles after hours. I was hoping to learn how she cooked the delicious rice I ate there about a week before. It was covered with curls of see-through pickles and little scoops of sticky, savory jams, and many kinds of herbs. The grains of rice were whole and tender — soft but not soupy. How much time could we possibly need, I wondered, to boil some rice until it was tender?

What I learned was that a simple bowl of soft rice, in the hands of Minh Phan, was in fact extraordinary. It tasted familiar and comforting, but it was built meticulously and garnished effusively, its flavors carefully layered, its textures arranged in sequence. Continue reading

Books For Early 2019

collierbookI have a few more books, in addition to this history, on my reading list. Reihan Salam, the executive editor of National Review, provides this preview of the Oxford economist Paul Collier‘s new book:

You might expect that Paul Collier, a noted development economist at Oxford who has devoted most of his professional life to the uplift of the global poor, would see himself as a “citizen of the world.” But that’s not quite right. Collier grew up in Sheffield, a once-flourishing English steel town that provided working-class families like his own with a modicum of prosperity and stability, and that has since struggled in the face of import competition and the loss of many of its most ambitious citizens to London and other dynamic cities. He attributes his prodigious accomplishments in no small part to the cooperative character of the community, and the nation, in which he was raised.

National loyalty, far from being inimical to a more just and decent world in which all, including the world’s poorest, can flourish, is seen by Collier as a firmer foundation for global cooperation than abstract cosmopolitanism, which all too often serves as a mask for unenlightened self-interest. The question animating his small but wide-ranging book “The Future of Capitalism” is whether the sense of rootedness that so defined the Britain of his youth can be restored…

ValueBook.jpgRead the whole review here. My second encounter with Paul Collier was this panel discussion on Intelligence Squared. The way in which the world’s developing economies view capitalism is as important as the current changes in how mature developed economies view capitalism. For that reason I am also looking forward to Mariana Mazzucato’s most recent book, to the right. Surprisingly I had never heard of her before listening to her muse about various influences in her life that led to her distinct voice on how value is created by societies. Her self-introduction makes me wonder how she did not show up in our pages previously:

I’m a Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London (UCL), and Director of UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose . My work is focused on the economics of innovation; patient finance; economic growth and the role of the State in modern capitalism. I advise policy makers around the world on how to achieve economic growth that is more innovation-led, inclusive and sustainable. My 2013 book, The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths, looks at the ‘investor of first resort’ role that the State has played in the history of technological change — from the Internet, to biotech and clean-tech — and the implications for future innovation and for achieving public-private partnerships that are more symbiotic. In 2016 I co-edited a book called Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth focusing on the need for new economic thinking to drive more effective economic policies. My new book The Value of Everything, available in UK and US edition, looks at the need to revisit the difference between value creation and value extraction, and the problems that arise when one is confused with the other.

Thinking Forward While Looking Back

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Jill Lepore is a New Yorker staff writer and a historian at Harvard University. She tells David Remnick that her new book is the result of a dare: to tell—or even to understand—the story of this country, from the Age of Discovery through the present day, in one volume. In “These Truths,” Lepore surveys six-hundred-odd years of American history, paying particular attention to themes of immigration, suffrage, and how the media has shaped our democracy. Above all, Lepore grapples with whether the United States has lived up to the promises of its founding. She finds an America alternately fearful of change and fearful of stagnation, trapped between idealizing the past and hoping for a better future. The journey toward progress, Leporesays, is less a march than a stumble.

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I have listened to several interviews that Jill Lepore has given during her promotional tour of her new book, such as the one above (click the top image to go to the source). Today I listened to this one, and it has convinced me that this is one of the books I should take the time to read to put the country of my birth, and the country that many people regardless of birthplace are currently confused by, back in some kind of perspective.

We mostly avoid political commentary on this platform but it is impossible to pretend that the USA or Brazil, or the world as a whole are moving forward or in a good direction. My point of view on the state of governance is mainly one of surprise and confusion–how did we get so reactionary so quickly, and where will that lead us?

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Photograph from Universal History Archive / UIG / Getty

I had already listened to this short discussion of the ideas in this book several months ago. It was interesting but had almost zero impact. On the best of days recently I tell myself that if such a shocking mess is possible, then it should also be possible to imagine and move toward a radically superior future. And that always feels Panglossian. But with a few hundred years of history in mind, Jill Lepore gets me thinking that maybe I can see these times for what they are–not good, nor headed anywhere good–but also see that the cycles of history have had us in at least equally trying times, many times in the past. Ezra Klein has one of the best podcasts out there, and this episode proves it to me:

Jill Lepore is a Harvard historian, a New Yorker contributor, and the author of These Truths, a dazzling one-volume synthesis of American history. She’s the kind of history teacher everyone wishes they’d had, able to effortlessly connect the events and themes of American history to make sense of our past and clarify our present.

“The American Revolution did not begin in 1775 and it didn’t end when the war was over,” Lepore writes. This is a conversation about those revolutions. But more than that, it’s a conversation about who we are as a country, and how that self-definition is always contested and constantly in flux. Continue reading