Wilderness, Massive Infrastructure Projects & Changing Global Norms

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Construction of the second phase of the Chinese-financed Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya crosses through Nairobi National Park, as pictured here in June. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/ AFP/ GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to William Laurance for this informative opinion essay that gives a bit of hope for wilderness preservation:

Is the Global Era of Massive Infrastructure Projects Coming to an End?

The world’s wild places have been badly carved up by decades of roadbuilding, dam construction, energy exploitation, and other megaprojects. Now, as the financial community, environmental groups, and local citizens increasingly oppose big infrastructure development, the tide of environmental destruction may be turning.

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Malaysia’s former Prime Minster Najib Razak, third from left, looks at a model of the China-backed East Coast Rail Link in 2017. Malaysia has since canceled the project due to mounting costs. AP PHOTO

We are living in the most explosive era of infrastructure expansion in human history. To meet the United Nations’ development goals, we would need to invest tens of trillions of dollars in new roads, railways, energy ventures, ports, and other projects by 2030 — dramatically amplifying an infrastructure tsunami that is already shattering the world’s biologically richest ecosystems. But this great wave of infrastructure development is suddenly looking shaky — and it might just be the best outcome for nature and humanity alike. Continue reading

Helping Plants Make Their Own Nitrogen

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Poplar trees at the Snoqualmie River in Washington State. The river is fed mostly by snow melt and is extremely low in nitrogen, yet the trees thrive thanks to endophytes. Sharon Doty

Thanks to our friends at the salt, and National Public Radio (USA) for this:

Microbial Magic Could Help Slash Your Dinner’s Carbon Footprint

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Endophytes are microbes that live inside plants — the ones tagged with a fluorescent dye in this image are found in poplars. The microbes gather nitrogen from the air, turning it into a form plants can use, a process called nitrogen fixation. Researchers are looking at how these microbes could be used to help crops like rice and corn make their own fertilizer.
Sam Scharffenberger

If you’re interested in sustainability, you’ve probably thought about how to reduce your carbon footprint, from how you fuel your car to how you heat your home. But what about carbon emissions from growing the food you eat?

Most of the crops in the United States are grown using chemical fertilizer – a lot of it: American farmers used over 24 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer in 2011. And making nitrogen fertilizer requires fossil fuels like natural gas or coal. Continue reading

Rise Products Reduce Waste

 

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Bertha Jimenez milling flour at Rise Products’ temporary kitchen in Long Island City, Queens.
Ms. Jimenez, an Ecuadorean immigrant with a doctorate in engineering, helped develop a method for making flour from the grain left over after brewing beer. 
George Etheredge for The New York Times

Thanks to Larissa Zimberoff for this:

From Brewery to Bakery: A Flour That Fights Waste

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In a temporary commercial kitchen in Long Island City, Queens, Rise Products dries spent beer grains in an oven before they are ground, milled and sifted into a fine flour. George Etheredge for The New York Times

For some people, beer is the perfect end to a workday. For Bertha Jimenez, it’s the start of a new way to eliminate food waste.

Breweries throw out millions of pounds of used grain every day that could have other uses. While some is repurposed as animal feed, compostable products or heating fuel, little has been exploited for its value as food.

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Because of the growing interest in reducing waste, many chefs and bakers are already eager to work with the flour. George Etheredge for The New York Times

But Ms. Jimenez, 35, has created a small start-up, Rise Products, that converts the grain into a flour that is finding its way into sustainable bakeries and kitchens in New York and as far away as Italy.

The potential for recycling beer waste first came into the cross hairs of Ms. Jimenez, an immigrant from Ecuador, while she was working toward her doctorate in 2015 at the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University. Intent on finding ways to reduce industrial waste, she started a side project with like-minded friends — most of them also immigrants — and craft beer provided an easy target: Everyone loved it, but it had issues.

Ms. Jimenez lives in Brooklyn, which at last count had 20 craft breweries that are tossing out grain. Ms. Jimenez and Ashwin Gopi, a classmate and a founder of Rise, began asking around for samples so they could figure out how best to reuse them. Continue reading

Copenhagenize Your City

3872 (1).jpgWho knew you could do such a thing? When did that become a thing? Nevermind, just read the graphs that accompany this story:

Danish-Canadian urban designer Mikael Colville-Andersen busts some common myths and shows how the bicycle has the potential to transform cities around the world (All images: Copenhagenize Design Company/ Mikael Colville-Andersen)

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Perspective On The Plastic Straw

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A typical Stone straw ad from a newspaper in 1899 (Google Books)

When we arrived in south India mid-2010 our toolkit was full of fifteen years worth of entrepreneurial conservation initiatives, starting in Costa Rica and followed by work in the Galapagos Islands, Chilean Patagonia, Montenegro, Croatia and Siberia. It took us a year to understand all the important ways India differed from everything we knew from elsewhere. Then Amie started targeting the elimination of plastic from our hotel operations, starting with bags in the gift shops. She might have been a latter-day Doña Quixote, tilting at packaged water bottles. All tourists had been instructed by guide books and travel agents to insist on these, and it was not as simple as deciding we knew better.

I might have been a latter-day  Sancho Panza, with a front row seat to the action and as occasional contributor to solution-sourcing. But nevermind the literary allusions. We did eliminate plastic bottles, and then moved on to straws, both in India and back in Costa Rica. We are still working on straws, which oddly enough are more puzzling than disposable water bottles. Alexis Madrigal, as always, has our gratitude for this illuminating history and perspective that helps stoke our motivation:

Disposable America

A history of modern capitalism from the perspective of the straw. Seriously.

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A straw is a simple thing. It’s a tube, a conveyance mechanism for liquid. The defining characteristic of the straw is the emptiness inside it. This is the stuff of tragedy, and America.

Over the last several months, plastic straws have come under fire from environmental activists who rightly point out that disposable plastics have created a swirling, centuries-long ecological disaster that is brutally difficult to clean up. Bags were first against the wall, but municipalities from Oakland, California, (yup) to Surfside, Florida, (huh!) have started to restrict the use of plastic straws. Of course, now there is a movement afoot among conservatives to keep those plastics flowing for freedom. Meanwhile, disability advocates have pointed out that plastic straws, in particular, are important for people with physical limitations. “To me, it’s just lame liberal activism that in the end is nothing,” one activist told The Toronto Star. “We’re really kind of vilifying people who need straws.” Other environmentalists aren’t sure that banning straws is gonna do much, and point out that banning straws is not an entirely rigorous approach to global systems change, considering that a widely cited estimate for the magnitude of the problem was, umm, created by a smart 9-year-old. Continue reading

Resilience, Greece & Reasonable Questions

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Tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign currency earner. Photograph: Costas Baltas/Reuters

Nearly forty years ago I was in Greece for the second time. I accompanied my mother on a visit to the village where she was born and had lived until her teens. We had spent an extended period in that village ten years earlier, and into my child’s mind it had imprinted vivid memories that, by 1979, were as fresh as the smell of bread baking in the stone oven of that village home. And now, that re-visit with my mother is as vivid as can be, and even has a sound track. That album had just been released and someone in the village had a cassette tape of it, and it played from the sound system of a Volkswagen Beetle, doors open, as we had a meal overlooking the mountains.

I have had one opportunity to bring to Greece the sustainable tourism development tools I have been working with since the mid-1990s. This recent story in the Guardian, too short to truly appreciate the scale of the questions raised, is a welcome reminder to me of the work to be done in a place I care deeply about.

Greece tourism at record high amid alarm over environmental cost

With 32 million visitors expected this year, fears grow that the country cannot cope

Greece is braced for another bumper year. The tourists will not stop coming. For every one of its citizens, three foreign visitors – 32 million in total – will arrive this year, more than at any other time since records began.

It’s an extraordinary feat for a country that has battled with bankruptcy, at times has been better known for its protests and riots and, only three years ago, narrowly escaped euro ejection. Tourism is the heavy industry that has helped keep catastrophe at bay.

But is Greece almost too successful for its own good? Tourist numbers have increased by an additional two million every year for the past three years. Arrivals from China alone have doubled since 2017. But with forecasts predicting record numbers over the next decade, a growing number are asking: can Greece really cope? Continue reading

Aspirational Recycling & Bigger Problems

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Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

I recall reading this article by Livia Albeck-Ripka and thinking that I would like to read more from anyone who can write clearly and creatively about topics that are central to our purpose here. And so today, my wish was granted, twice. In this first one, I am introduced to a term, aspirational recycling, that I had not heard until now:

6 Things You’re Recycling Wrong

Can you recycle coffee cups or greasy pizza boxes? If you’re tossing things in the recycling bin out of sheer hope, you might be an “aspirational recycler.”

We have all done it: a greasy pizza box, a disposable coffee cup, the odd plastic bag. Sometimes, we want things to be recyclable, so we put them in the recycling bin.

Waste managers often call this wishful or aspirational recycling. But, unfortunately, putting these objects in with the rest of the recycling can do more harm than good. While rules differ in every municipality (check your local recycling website to find out what’s acceptable), we have picked out some key offenders to keep in mind.

Too many of these items will contaminate a batch of recycling. That means waste managers might not be able to find buyers for the materials — especially now that China, one of the world’s main importers of recyclable waste, has said it will reject shipments that are more than 0.5 percent impure. Contaminated loads could be sent to the landfill instead…

Same day, same publication, same author, an eye-opener for anyone who diligently follows all the rules made plain in the article above:

Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not

Plastics and papers from dozens of American cities and towns are being dumped in landfills after China stopped recycling most “foreign garbage.”

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Bales of recyclable waste in Seattle. American waste managers are struggling to find plants to process their recyclables. Credit Wiqan Ang for The New York Times

Oregon is serious about recycling. Its residents are accustomed to dutifully separating milk cartons, yogurt containers, cereal boxes and kombucha bottles from their trash to divert them from the landfill. But this year, because of a far-reaching rule change in China, some of the recyclables are ending up in the local dump anyway. Continue reading

Karen Washington, Food Activist

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‘When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.’
Illustration: Daniel Chang Christensen

Thanks to Anna Brones for bringing this article, and its subject, to our attention in the Guardian, as a reprint of an essay originally published in Guernica:

Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system

America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities. Continue reading

Being Ecological When Nature Is Perceived With Limits

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A book about ecology without information dumping, guilt inducing, or preaching to the choir.

This new book is mentioned in a description of coming to terms with a life without water, an essay written from the perspective of living in Cape Town, South Africa. The essay is moving in the way a dream can be, which fits the writer’s reference to what we all might come to know as “the water-anxiety dream.”

The essay was effective enough to get me to click through to find out more about the book to the left. Which leads to Timothy Morton, who has somehow avoided our notice until now. How had we missed an author of books with titles like Dark Ecology, and The Ecological Thought, as well as Ecology without Nature?

Nevermind how. My thanks to Rosa Lyster for this, among other gifts from her essay.

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For some residents of Cape Town, the memory of the drought is already fading. But, in an increasingly parched world, will the anxiety ever really end? Illustration by Owen Gent

A friend of mine got married in her parents’ garden last year, on a lavishly beautiful late-summer afternoon in Cape Town. Many of the guests were British, and they could not stop remarking on the fineness of the weather. It was a startling reminder that some people still relish hot days with no possibility of rain, that not everyone looks upon February in the Western Cape as something to be endured. After the ceremony, my date and I stood by the swimming pool, drinking sparkling wine and monitoring the canapés. My friend’s stepfather came by to say hello, carefully picking his way past the bride’s two young brothers, who were playing an ecstatic game of hide-and-seek on the lawn, getting grass stains on their tiny suits. After gracefully accepting our praise about how lovely everything had been, he told us that he’d been having torrid anxiety dreams. We nodded. Weddings are notoriously hard on the old nerves—guests to be tended to, speeches to be made, and the pool just lying there, waiting for any old idiot to accidentally fall in and cast an undignified pall over the happy day. He shook his head. His dream, he explained, was about the garden. Continue reading

Turbines, Bigger & Better

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Prototype wind turbines whirl at a testing site in Osterild, near the northern end of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. By Rasmus Degnbol

Thanks to the New York Times for this reminder that, in spite of what headlines often lead us to believe, progress is out there on as many fronts as we care to look to:

How Windmills as Wide as Jumbo Jets
Are Making Clean Energy Mainstream

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Blades for wind turbines lie outside a factory, waiting to be transported to wind farms.By Rasmus Degnbol

OSTERILD, Denmark — At the northern end of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula, the wind blows so hard that rows of trees grow in one direction, like gnarled flags.

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Technicians reach the roof of these enormous wind turbines either via an internal elevator or, if the turbine is installed offshore, by helicopters that lower them into the fenced-off area.By Rasmus Degnbol

The relentless weather over this long strip of farmland, bogs and mud flats — and the real-world laboratory it provides — has given the country a leading role in transforming wind power into a viable source of clean energy.

After energy prices spiked during the 1973 oil crisis, entrepreneurs began building small turbines to sell here. “It started out as an interest in providing power for my parents’ farm,” said Henrik Stiesdal, who designed and built early prototypes with a blacksmith partner. Continue reading

Plastic Reduction Success Story

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A UK levy of 5p per bag introduced in 2015 has already reduced single-use plastic bags by 85%. Photograph: Stuart Kelly/Alamy Stock Photo

We never tire of reporting on efforts at plastic-reduction, so thanks to Juliette Jowit and the Guardian for this update:

Drop in plastic bags littering British seas linked to introduction of 5p charge

Scientists find an estimated 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in the same timeframe as charges were introduced in European countries

A big drop in plastic bags found in the seas around Britain has been credited to the introduction of charges for plastic bags across Europe. Continue reading

MA’O’s Marvelous Mission

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If we had come upon the website with no introduction maybe it would have looked like just another pretty organic farm in a tropical paradise.

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But there are people involved, and it is a pleasant surprise to learn from Dakota Kim’s story Youth Farm In Hawaii Is Growing Food And Leaders how those people bring that place further to life. There is a mission worth reading about:

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Cheryse Sana, farm co-manager, cuts a banana blossom off a tree at MA’O Organic Farms. Dakota Kim

A tight circle of teenagers is deep in conversation — not about movies or apps, but about … vegetables.

It’s 7 a.m. at MA’O Organic Farms, part of 24 acres nestled in an emerald mountain-ringed valley just two miles from Oahu’s west shore. Under a hot sun that bathes this idyllic breadbasket, college-aged farmers harvest tons of mangoes, bananas, mizuna (mustard greens) and taro every month for the island of Oahu.

The farm’s atmosphere bubbles with enthusiastic lightheartedness, its college interns quipping across the rows that they can beat their neighbors’ harvesting speed. But a calm falls over the group as they move from joking around to talking more seriously. A circle forms under an open pavilion, and a young woman speaks. Continue reading

Using Water Cleverly

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Hydrologists Zach Freed (The Nature Conservancy) and Hank Johnson (U.S. Geologic Survey) measure water chemistry of the spring from the inflow pipe to the old trough, which is filled with emergent aquatic vegetation. Photo © Allison Aldous / The Nature Conservancy

Thanks to Lisa Feldcamp at the Nature Conservancy for this story:

Sharing Water: How I Met the MacGyvers of Water Use

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Down the stream at Sand Spring you can see an elk wallow. Photo © Lisa Feldkamp / The Nature Conservancy

“It’s like leaving the kitchen faucet on all year for one glass of water,” says Zach Freed, a hydrologist for the Nature Conservancy in Oregon. That’s how people in Oregon and throughout the US West have traditionally used spring water.

When European homesteaders first came west, spring water must have seemed like an endless resource. Homesteaders could find a potable spring and turn on the tap to provide water for their families and livestock. As the generations came and went, old ranches failed, and new ones sprang up. Springs came in and out of use, but it often happened that nobody ever turned off the tap. Continue reading

Matta-Clark, Urban Decay & Renaissance

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Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Day’s End” (Pier 52), 1975. Photograph Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / ARS / David Zwirner

Renaissance is a word that sounds like it means something good. But not necessarily so. Sarah Cowan has this review of a show in the Bronx that sounds worthy of a visit:

The Future Did Not Have to Be Luxury Condos: Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark

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Gordon Matta-Clark (pictured left, in 1975) folded urban decay into his art. Move ahead forty years and the city’s debris is from new development. Photograph by Harry Gruyaert. Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / ARS / David Zwirner

In the film “Day’s End,” the artist Gordon Matta-Clark rides a whale-size piece of corrugated metal as it is hoisted away from the wall from which he just cut it. He’s a young man, age thirty-two. The feat was filmed in the summer of 1975, in Chelsea’s abandoned Pier 52 building, where Matta-Clark attempted to make an “indoor park.” His silhouette, against the sunlight streaming in from his new view of the Hudson River, is heroic. Continue reading

Recycling Primer, UK Edition

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Many people aren’t sure which plastics they can recycle – and which they can’t. Photograph: Alamy

Thanks to Angela Monaghan, at the Guardian, for this reminder of the basics of recycling:

Which items can’t be recycled?

Many people think items such as plastic bags and coffee cups can be recycled when they can’t. Here are the do’s and don’ts

British consumers are increasingly willing to recycle their household waste but are failing to grasp the basics, according to the latest research by the British Science Association. Failure to get it right means that a lot of recyclable waste is going to landfill, the BSA says.

The issue is further complicated by inconsistency among councils, which make their own rules and funding decisions on recycling collections.

Common mistakes include putting tissue boxes in the recycling bin without first removing the plastic insert. On the flipside, people often wrongly think that empty deodorant aerosols cannot be recycled. Continue reading

Know Your Packaging

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Because of layers of material that can be difficult to separate, many containers for juices and broths have traditionally been destined for landfills. But recycling them is getting easier. KidStock/Getty Images

Natalie Jacewicz, a science writer based in New York City has this illuminating story on packaging:

In The Recycling World, Why Are Some Cartons Such A Problem?

Scoot over, cans; cartons are moving in on your shelf space. Specifically, the soft, light rectangular containers commonly associated with juice boxes — “aseptic cartons” to the carton literati.

“They’re growing in popularity,” says Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council, an industry group. “Broth is predominantly in aseptic packaging now, and you see a lot of coconut water in it.”

Aseptic cartons pack several environmental upsides, with one big catch: Traditionally, these containers have been quite difficult to recycle. To take stock of the promises and challenges of this supermarket sensation, I talked to experts on all things carton. Continue reading

Toys-R-Greening

 

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Pieces such as leaves, bushes and trees will be made entirely from plant-based plastic. Photograph: Maria Tuxen Hedegaard/Lego

Among contributors to this platform, the number of lego pieces bought over the last fifty years likely aggregates into the hundreds of thousands. And yes, we all eventually knew that the product is petroleum-based and therefore worthy of reconsideration in for the next generation. But they have remained irresistible anyhow, and so we are glad to hear the company is moving in a new direction. Rebecca Smithers, the Consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, offers this news on where the company is going with green:

First sustainable Lego pieces to go on sale

Range including leaves, bushes and trees made entirely from plant-based plastic sourced from sugar cane will be available later this year

The first Lego pieces made from plant-based plastic sourced from sugar cane will go on sale this year, the company has announced.

The 85-year-old Danish toymaker said production has begun on a range of Lego botanical elements or pieces such as leaves, bushes and trees, made entirely from plant-based plastic. They will start appearing in Lego box sets with bricks and mini-figures later this year. Continue reading

What Do We Want In A City Of The Future?

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We do not normally link to the writing of science fiction authors, nor is the topic of the essay below typical of the themes in our 2011-2018. But it is not unheard of; nor is it too late to add more to this short thread of links to sci-fi authors. If Bruce Sterling catches your attention with these first few paragraphs pasted below, you may want to go to The Atlantic to read the rest:

Stop Saying ‘Smart Cities’

Digital stardust won’t magically make future cities more affordable or resilient.

The term “smart city” is interesting yet not important, because nobody defines it. “Smart” is a snazzy political label used by a modern alliance of leftist urbanites and tech industrialists. To deem yourself “smart” is to make the nimbyites and market-force people look stupid.

Smart-city devotees all over this world will agree that London is particularly smart. Why? London is a huge, ungainly beast whose cartwheeling urban life is in cranky, irrational disarray. London is a god-awful urban mess, but London does have some of the best international smart-city conferences.

London also has a large urban-management bureaucracy who emit the proper smart-city buzzwords and have even invented some themselves.  The language of Smart City is always Global Business English, no matter what town you’re in.

So if grand old London is smart, with its empty skyscrapers, creepy CCTV videocams, and sewers plugged with animal fat, then we probably needn’t fret about the Elon Musk sequins and stardust of digital urbanism. Better to reimagine the forthcoming urban future as a mirror of Rome, that “Eternal City,” where nothing much ever gets tech-fixed, but everything changes constantly so that everything can remain the same. Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Britain’s Windfalls

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Thanks to the Guardian for this update on the current state of the art of wind power, and it is good to see Britain in the lead:

Wild is the wind: the resource that could power the world

Wind isn’t just mysterious, destructive and exhilarating – capturing just 2% of it would solve the planet’s energy needs at a stroke. And as the windiest country in Europe, Britain is at the forefront of this green revolution Continue reading