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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Mikel Jaso

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

Betting On Planet Earth

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Illustration by Dadu Shin

Last week we pointed to this article, and today we point to another of equal value from the same issue of the same magazine.

How Big Business Is Hedging Against the Apocalypse

Investors are finally paying attention to climate change — though not in the way you might hope.

The New York Times Magazine is on to something. More than most magazines, it is offering stark, long form accounts of the stakes being wagered against our planet.

9780374191337.jpgNathaniel Rich has become one of the most potent writers on the fate of our planet in relation to human actions and inactions. Last year the New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to one article he authored. And now he has a book, which you can listen to him talk about here. The publisher’s blurb:

By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change—including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late. Losing Earth is their story, and ours. 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

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

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

Look Away, But At Least Listen

9780525576709.jpegWe have already linked to stories about life after warming enough that it borders on repetitive. No choice, as the book to the right makes very clear. This recent short video by the author will make you wince. There is something about visual cues on this topic that make it tougher to listen without being distracted. One of the better conversations with him is this one hour+, so if you only have that much time for him, make the best of it:

After years of hovering on the periphery of American politics, never quite the star of the show, it seems that climate change is having a moment. 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

Fighting Climate Change With Ecosystem Restoration

Photo by Pexels

Throughout the history of this site we’ve focussed on accentuating positive steps in conservation, while also pointing out the negative forces with the intention that knowledge is power that leads to action.

We applaud the UN Environment Assembly for pressing further into the remaining window of opportunity to restore ecosystem health.

New UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to inspire bold UN Environment Assembly decisions

The UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, is the world’s leading decision-making forum. From 11 to 15 March 2019, it will be considering how best to improve outcomes for people and planet. Ecosystems will be high up on the agenda.

The timing looks good. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, declared on 1 March 2019 by the UN General Assembly, aims to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems as a proven measure to fight climate change, and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity.

The degradation of land and marine ecosystems undermines the well-being of 3.2 billion people and costs about 10 per cent of the annual global gross domestic product in loss of species and ecosystems services. Key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against hazards and provision of habitat for species such as fish and pollinators, are declining rapidly.

Restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services and take an additional 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

UN Environment and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will lead implementation of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Continue reading

Marine Biologists & Earth’s Future

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Hirondellea gigas, an amphipod collected from the Mariana Trench (ALAN JAMIESON / NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY)

Ed Yong’s story will not make you happy. But it is a plastics must-read. Marine biologists are akin to climate scientists whose job requires sharing specific unsettling findings. To put it mildly. The scientist in this case says he does not like doing this work. But he continues in the interest of science and in the interest of the planet’s future. Thanks to him and people like him:

A Troubling Discovery in the Deepest Ocean Trenches

In the Mariana Trench, the lowest point in any ocean, every tiny animal tested had plastic pollution hiding in its gut.

Alan Jamieson remembers seeing it for the first time: a small, black fiber floating in a tube of liquid. It resembled a hair, but when Jamieson examined it under a microscope, he realized that the fiber was clearly synthetic—a piece of plastic. And worryingly, his student Lauren Brooks had pulled it from the gut of a small crustacean living in one of the deepest parts of the ocean. Continue reading

What’s The Delay?

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In 2017, seventeen major wildfires in California were connected to P.G. & E. Photograph by George Rose / Getty

Sheelah Kolhatkar has a note, The P.G. & E. Bankruptcy and the Coming Climate-Related Business Failures, that gets me thinking. The standard thinking on why climate change is so difficult to do anything about is how it is seen as a problem we will encounter far off in the future. It obviously is not far off. It has started. Farmers have suffered. Big city folk have suffered. California dreamers have suffered. The immediacy needs to be framed accordingly:

On January 15th, the World Economic Forum issued its annual Global Risks Report, which presents the results of a survey of what policymakers and experts perceive to be the world’s greatest challenges and threats. The report categorizes concerns by color: blue for economic risks, orange for geopolitical risks, purple for technological risks, red for societal risks. This year, green, which denotes environmental hazards, was dominant: the top three risks, listed by the “likelihood” that they would occur, were extreme weather events, failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, and natural disasters. (Threats such as data fraud and cyber-attacks appeared lower down on the list). “Is the world sleepwalking into a crisis?” the report’s authors wrote. “Global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking.” Continue reading

15 Minutes Of Fame For A Good Cause

It takes the full 15 minutes of video above to fully appreciate what happened a few days ago. The soundbite 57 second version had me convinced that the senator was haughty and deserved to be schooled by these kids. But the full picture above, as often happens, provides better perspective, an attribute of little l liberalism. She was not quite the jerk I first thought.

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In an exchange that went viral, the senator from California demonstrated why climate change exemplifies an issue on which older people should listen to the young. Photograph by Mark Peterson / Redux

There was a moment in time when a political slogan about something very important became a movement with potential; and then it seemed to disappear as quickly as it had appeared. That was my first exposure to political activism, and certainly not my last. But it provided an important lesson. Use the time you have on the stage wisely. I get reminded of this constantly in the last few years. This dispatch by Bill McKibben is what I take away from the moment these kids had in the spotlight:

Anything But Sweet

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Trees felled for a cocoa plantation inside the Scio Forest Reserve in western Ivory Coast. MIGHTY EARTH

Fred Pearce provides puzzling yet somehow understandable examinations of environmental challenges, that make it impossible to look away with a clear conscience. Since reading this (note the photo above and in that story) I have been paying more attention to chocolate and its origins. I appreciate Mr. Pearce’s deep dive into the dark reality documented in this story:

The Real Price of a Chocolate Bar: West Africa’s Rainforests

Ivory Coast has lost more than 80 percent of its forests in the last 50 years, mainly to cocoa production. The government has a plan to turn over management of former forest to international chocolate manufacturers: Is it a conservation strategy or a land grab?

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Workers cut cocoa in the Ivory Coast village of Godilehiri. Most of the country’s cocoa is grown by small farmers, on plots of 7 to 10 acres. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

How can you save the last rainforests from rampant deforestation in one of Africa’s most biodiverse countries? A crackdown on those responsible — in this case, chocolate growers and traders? In the Ivory Coast, the government thinks differently. It is unveiling a plan instead to remove protection from most of its remaining forests and hand them over to the world’s chocolate traders. Is this madness, a brutal land grab, or the only way out?

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A park ranger stands over illegally harvested cocoa, found during a routine patrol of the Cavally Classified Forest in Ivory Coast. MIGHTY EARTH

In the past half-century, few countries have lost rainforests as fast as the Ivory Coast. More than 80 percent of its forests are gone, most following an illegal invasion by as many as a million landless people into national parks and other supposedly protected forests. The Marahoue National Park alone has 30,000 illegal inhabitants. The invaders are growing cocoa to supply the global chocolate business.

The Ivory Coast, a West African country the size of New Mexico, produces more than a third of the world’s cocoa. The crop contributes around a tenth of the nation’s GDP. But around 40 percent of the country’s cocoa crop — more than a tenth of the world’s chocolate bars — is grown illegally in the country’s national parks and 230 supposedly protected government-owned forests, known as forêts classée, says Etelle Higonnet of Mighty Earth, a United States-based environmental group active in cataloging the footprint of key global commodities.

Most cocoa is grown in monocultures of what is known as the full-sun system, requiring the removal of all surrounding trees. Meeting the world’s insatiable demand for the beans that make chocolate has resulted in many protected areas being “completely converted to farms,” according to Eloi Anderson Bitty of the University Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan. Continue reading

The Power Of Panic

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Ms. Cohen favors vendors who don’t use plastic. Credit Adam Amengual for The New York Times

When I started my Saturday morning reading it was just prior to our weekly visit to the farmer’s market and there was visual resonance with our own experience eliminating, or trying to eliminate plastic:

You’re Addicted to Plastic. Can You Go Cold Turkey?

Going plastic free starts with cloth bags and straws. Suddenly, you’re … making your own toothpaste?

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Reusable cloth bags are a must. Credit Adam Amengual for The New York Times

Like most people, resonance is always welcome in my reading. But like a second cup of coffee to really get the day going, there is nothing like cognitive dissonance. I can think eliminating plastic from our lives is a big deal one moment, and then the next it is clear that it is not enough, that it is like tinkering. Or as the punchy cliche puts it, like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. David Wallace-Wells is a skilled dissonance artist in this vein. He can make your best efforts suddenly seem pathetic; not in a snarky way and if you listen to him explain his work you will realize resistance is futile; you cannot look away from what he is saying, even if you want to.

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‘A profound book, which simultaneously makes me terrified and hopeful about the future’ Jonathan Safran Foer
A Times and FT Most Anticipated Book 2019

His book will not likely be damned by faint praise; its look at our future prospects will more likely draw extreme responses in favor of the intensity of his alarm, and claims of alarmism from the usual suspects. He is catching up to Elizabeth Kolbert in balancing our preference for optimism with extreme realism. His op-ed on Saturday tipped the balance for me quite like a second, maybe third cup of coffee:

The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.

We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization. Continue reading

Gaining Ground

Cleaning plastic waste from the oceans is an ever-present issue. We thank the UN News for sharing this example of collaborations that inspire present and future action.

Boat made of recycled plastic and flip-flops inspires fight for cleaner seas along African coast

After completing a historic 500km journey from the Kenyan island of Lamu to the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, the world’s first ever traditional “dhow” sailing boat made entirely from recycled plastic, known as the Flipflopi, has successfully raised awareness of the need to overcome one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges: plastic pollution.

The Flipflopi Project was co-founded by Kenyan tour operator Ben Morison in 2016, and the ground-breaking dhow was built by master craftsmen Ali Skanda, and a team of volunteers using 10 tonnes of recycled plastic.

The boat gets its name from the 30,000 recycled flip-flops used to decorate its multi-coloured hull. Continue reading

Great Rivers Are Worthy Of Great Restoration Projects

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The Colorado River delta in Baja California is now a mosaic of largely dried-up river channels and tidal salt flats. TED WOOD

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Downstream from the Morelos Dam, the Colorado River delta now runs dry before reaching the Gulf of California. MAP BY DAVID LINDROTH

When the first couple of stories about the Colorado River ran in Yale e360, it was difficult to imagine how much more there might be to say about it. But now the last article in the series, Restoring the Colorado: Bringing New Life to a Stressed River, provides an example of saving the best for last:

The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.

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The Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border, where the Colorado’s remaining water is diverted to cities and farms in Mexico. SUPPORT FOR AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS PROVIDED BY LIGHTHAWK

From the air, the last gasp of the Colorado River is sudden and dramatic. The pale green river flows smack into the Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border, and virtually all of it is immediately diverted into a large irrigation canal that waters a mosaic of hundreds of fields — alfalfa, asparagus, lettuce, and other vegetables, their vivid green color clashing against the sere desert. The slender thread of water that remains in the Colorado’s channel continues to flow south, but is soon swallowed up by a sea of sand, far short of its delta, which lies 100 miles farther on.

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A fisherman on the upper Colorado River in northern Colorado. Low water flows have endangered fish populations and led last year to the closing of parts of the river to fishing.

The Colorado River once surged through the delta during high flows, carrying so much water at times that shallow draft steamboats chugged hundreds of miles up the river into the U.S. with loads of freight. The water in the delta nourished a vast fertile landscape, a fitting end to a river known as the Nile of North America.

“The river was everywhere and nowhere,” the naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote during a 1922 canoe trip to the delta, describing the waterway as it ebbed, flowed, braided, and stalled into pools, nourishing a rich and diverse ecosystem of “a hundred green lagoons,” a “milk and honey wilderness” with thick stands of cottonwoods and willows that provided habitat for hundreds of species of birds. The delta’s marshes, mudflats, and white sand beaches were home to clapper rails, bitterns, mallards, teal, and clouds of egrets.

Bobcats, puma, deer, and wild boar wandered the delta’s forests. Leopold was searching for the jaguar that roamed there, but didn’t see any. Continue reading

Seven Generations

A custodian in Death Valley National Park, which would gain 40,000 acres under the measure. Credit Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via Associated Press

At a time when the current administration and it’s legislative supporters are busy dismantling the environmental protections that have been painstakingly developed for over half a century, this bipartisan achievement is surprising, and heartening news.

Senate Passes a Sweeping Land Conservation Bill

The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping public lands conservation bill, designating more than one million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures.

The Senate voted 92 to 8 in favor of the bill, offering a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber and a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when the Trump administration is working aggressively to strip away protections on public lands and open them to mining and drilling.

“It touches every state, features the input of a wide coalition of our colleagues, and has earned the support of a broad, diverse coalition of many advocates for public lands, economic development, and conservation,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the majority leader.

Western lawmakers of both parties have been working for four years on the bill, which will next be taken up by the House of Representatives, where it also enjoys bipartisan support.

“This package gives our country a million acres of new wilderness, protects a million acres of public lands from future mining, permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and balances conservation and recreation for the long term,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House Natural Resources Committee. “It’s one of the biggest bipartisan wins for this country I’ve ever seen in Congress.” Continue reading

The Original “Third Place”

Louie Chin

A friend of mine recently posted on social media about beautiful libraries in Halifax, as well as other favorites, including the Boston Public Library. We’ve written about libraries countless times on this site, both due to their clear cultural importance, as well as their impact within our family. It reminded me how libraries have been part of our lives since early toddlerhood for our sons, starting in Ithaca, where they were born, and in Paris, the American Library (the largest English-language lending library on the European continent) where they discovered authors like Philip Pullman and Terry Prachett. There are no limitations for what libraries have meant to our family over the years.

Thanks to sociologist Eric Klinenberg for this opinion piece.

To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library

This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.

Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.” Continue reading