WASHINGTON — If the world hopes to make meaningful progress on climate change, it won’t be enough for cars and factories to get cleaner. Our cows and wheat fields will have to become radically more efficient, too.
That’s the basic conclusion of a sweeping new study issued Wednesday by the World Resources Institute, an environmental group. The report warns that the world’s agricultural system will need drastic changes in the next few decades in order to feed billions more people without triggering a climate catastrophe.
The challenge is daunting: Agriculture already occupies roughly 40 percent of the world’s land and is responsible for about a quarter of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. But with the global population expected to grow from 7.2 billion people today to nearly 10 billion by 2050, and with many millions of people eating more meat as incomes rise, that environmental impact is on pace to expand dramatically. Continue reading
In our quest to brighten up each day with a story, a picture, or personal observation that helps us better understand the world around us, Doreen Carvajal is our source for this story in the New York Times from the former hometown of several of our long-time contributors:
PARIS — It’s a swift ride by elevator from Galeries Lafayette’s perfume section to the grand department store’s 10th-floor luxury farm with its signature scent of sage, rosemary and compost.
The rooftop garden, lush with climbing plants, tomatoes, marigolds and strawberries, is part of a plan to transform city farming into a deluxe shopping attraction for customers yearning for an exclusive green refuge — and perhaps a taste of beer brewed from the store’s homegrown hops. Continue reading
Thanks to Carolyn Kormann, making her fifth appearance since early 2016 in our pages, including this recent item that I particularly favored, for the article below that helps us understand what is happening with renewable energy these days in the USA. It is easy to forget, amidst all the noise of a federal government working to deregulate and reduce environmental protection, that important work continues:
In late September, the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that receives donations from fossil-fuel companies, published a blog post titled “California Billionaire’s Renewable Energy Initiative Makes Arizona Ballot.” The billionaire in question was Tom Steyer, whose year-long effort to pass Proposition 127, an amendment to Arizona’s constitution that would require power companies to generate fifty per cent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, has faced aggressive opposition from the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, or A.P.S. The blog post lamented a failed lawsuit filed by Arizonans for Affordable Energy, a political-action committee funded by A.P.S.’s parent company, to keep Prop 127 off the ballot, and quoted several opponents who believed the measure, now up for a vote in November, would be a costly mistake. “Prop 127 would tie Arizona’s future to technologies that do not deliver baseload electricity,” Mark Finchem, a Republican state representative, said, “and are arguably worse for the environment as a whole than the dependable technologies we already have.” The photograph accompanying the post depicted a wind-turbine farm, and, in the foreground, a dead bald eagle.
Arizona is the sunniest state in the country, with more than three hundred bluebird days per year. It is also projected to endure an additional month of hundred-degree days in the coming decades owing to climate change. Yet, despite the rapid decline in the cost of solar-energy technology and battery storage—to the point that, as an A.P.S. director told me, it now frequently outbids fossil fuels, even natural gas—in 2017, Arizona generated only six per cent of its electricity from solar, according to the ballot initiative’s advocates. The state currently requires utilities to generate eight per cent of their power from sources like solar and wind, scaling up to fifteen per cent by 2025. Natural gas, the largest source of Arizona’s net electricity generation, is imported from out of state. “Our most abundant resource in Arizona is our sunshine,” D. J. Quinlan, a spokesman for Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, the Phoenix-based political-action committee that Steyer is funding, said. “We need a nationwide transition to renewables. One of the first places we should be doing it is where it’s most efficient and cost-effective, and that’s here.” Continue reading
My daily contribution to this platform is a habit vaguely in the tradition of meditation–finding something each day that is worthy of gratitude, or otherwise worthy of sharing with friends, family, and anyone else who cares to listen. Because of the good fortune I have had to visit and work in many amazing places, it is important to me to never regret the places where I still have not been. Scotland is one of those places that, if I were a regretter, I would be feeling it now. I owe that place a visit (even if the company name sounds like a Bond villain):
Big six energy firm drops fossil fuels for generation and say cheap green energy is the future
Scottish Power has ditched fossil fuels for electricity generation and switched to 100% wind power, by selling off its last remaining gas power stations to Drax for more than £700m.
Iberdrola, Scottish Power’s Spanish parent company, said the move was part of its strategy to tackle climate change and would free it up to invest in renewables and power grids in the UK.
Popular fast-casual chains brag of sustainability, as customers toss their compostable and recyclable bowls into the trash with wild abandon.
Every weekday, shortly after 11 a.m., a line forms at the Broadway and 38th Street location of Sweetgreen, the eco-conscious salad chain. By noon, the line has usually tripled in size. It often takes more than 15 minutes to get to the front.
The scene is similar at the Chop’t at 41st and Broadway, or the Dig Inn on West 38th, or the Just Salad one block south. In the heart of Midtown Manhattan, the evidence is hard to dismiss: Greens, once so unappetizing that parents all over the country had to beg and bribe their children to eat them, have never been hotter. (Almost as hot: their denser, younger cousin, grains.) Continue reading
What gets measured gets managed. In the realm of climate science, national governments have the scale and responsibility to be involved in measurement. But if a skeptic is in charge of the government apparatus, good luck with that. With the national government of one of the big carbon footprint countries abandoning science and dropping out of the fight to reduce climate change, one of that country’s biggest companies is stepping up to offer an alternative. It may be too little too late but under the circumstances we may have no choice but to cheer it on:
The company will begin estimating local carbon pollution from cities around the world.
In the next decade or so, more than 6,000 cities, states, and provinces around the world will try to do something that has eluded humanity for 25 years: reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere and cause climate change.
The city-level leaders overseeing this task won’t have the same tools available to their national peers. Most of them won’t have an Environmental Protection Agency (or its equivalent), a meteorological bureau, a team of military engineers, or nasa. So where will they start? Never mind how to reduce their city’s greenhouse-gas emissions; how will they know what’s spewing carbon dioxide in the first place?
Maybe Google will do it for them. Or, at least, do it with them.
Google has started estimating greenhouse-gas emissions for individual cities, part of what it recently described as an ambitious new plan to deploy its hoard of geographic information on the side of climate-concerned local leaders. Continue reading
Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 50,000 customers a week.
Guy is an inspirational, passionate, opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Continue reading
Aapnu Amdavad has a lot to boast about. From being the first city to have been declared India’s first Unesco World Heritage City to being home to some prime educational institutes, this city has gained prominence on the global map. Having said that, the city has its share of dark spots too. The fast diminishing green cover in the city is one of them. India’s fifth largest city has a tree cover of approximately 35 crores (as per a 2017 census), which although is 13% more than the number of trees in 2013, is still not enough. The ongoing metro project has also led to a lot of felling of trees. Taking into consideration all this, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has decided to build vertical gardens in the city. It recently set up a small vertical garden along one of the pillars at the flyover at Helmet crossroads.
What are vertical gardens? Essentially vertical gardens are the kind of gardens that grow vertically, along walls or pillars, with the help of trellis (which are wooden frames) or similar support systems. Continue reading
The UK, whatever other challenges it may be experiencing, is proving itself creatively committed to green innovation:
Behavioural insights unit proposes new colour for registration plates to help ‘normalise the idea of clean vehicles’
Thanks to the Guardian for this news about harnessing wind at a record scale:
Walney Extension will power 590,000 homes amid fears Brexit could stifle growth
The world’s biggest offshore windfarm has officially opened in the Irish Sea, amid warnings that Brexit could increase costs for future projects.
Walney Extension, off the Cumbrian coast, spans an area the size of 20,000 football pitches and has a capacity of 659 megawatts, enough to power the equivalent of 590,000 homes.
The project is a sign of how dramatically wind technology has progressed in the past five years since the previous biggest, the London Array, was finished.
The new windfarm uses less than half the number of turbines but is more powerful.
Matthew Wright, the UK managing director of Danish energy firm Ørsted, the project’s developer, said: “It’s another benchmark in terms of the scale. This – bigger turbines, with fewer positions and a bit further out – is really the shape of projects going forward.” Continue reading
While indoor plumbing is more or less taken for granted, not everything that can flush, should. Thanks to the NYTimes for clarifying the basics.
It might seem harmless at first: a thread of dental floss tossed in the toilet, a contact lens swirling down the drain of the bathroom sink. But even the tiniest of items can contaminate waterways.
The small fragments of plastic contact lenses are believed to be contributing to the growing problem of microplastic pollution. Pharmaceuticals, which are also frequently flushed down the drain, have been found in our drinking water, and the consequences are not fully known.
Larger products like wipes and tampons are also clogging sewer systems, resulting in billions of dollars in maintenance and repair costs.
Wondering what’s safe to flush or wash down the drain? We spoke with several wastewater management experts who explained why many frequently disposed items belong in a garbage can, not the toilet. Continue reading
Arthur Neslen at the Guardian shares the news, in Europe to ban halogen lightbulbs, that we have been waiting to hear for years:
Thanks for this interview full of incisive interview quetions by David Bornstein, who is co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, which supports rigorous reporting about responses to social problems. Thanks to Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America, for the explanatory answers in the interview that follows:
Some of the biggest recycling operations are owned by landfill companies whose profits improve when recycling doesn’t work well.
In the past few years, one of the core pillars of the environmental movement — recycling — has fallen on hard times. News dispatches reveal hundreds of cities and counties scaling back their recycling programs because of the high costs associated with processing recyclables and the lack of demand for the materials. A new conventional wisdom is gaining ground suggesting that recycling may not be worth the effort.
But is that true? And has recycling ever gotten a fair shake? After decades, less than a third of municipal solid waste is recycled — and much of that is contaminated with garbage, which diminishes or destroys its value. Almost 50 years after the first Earth Day, are we really ready to admit defeat and return to the “Mad Men”-era ethos of the “throwaway society”?
There may be another way. For most of the past decade, Recycle Across America, a nonprofit organization I covered in this column six years ago, has been demonstrating that it’s quite possible to get people to recycle properly, just as it’s possible to get most people to wear seatbelts, quit smoking and stop driving drunk. But the recycling industry has never taken the logical steps needed to create a successful societywide recycling habit — and today it may not be in the economic interest of some of the big recycling companies to build it. Recently, I spoke with Mitch Hedlund, the founder of Recycle Across America, about this dilemma and the possibility that a recycling collapse can be avoided. Continue reading
Thanks to Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, for this:
The popularity of plant-based diets has created huge demand for the oil-rich seeds, prompting a farm in Essex to plant a crop
The first UK-grown chia seeds go on sale this week, as demand for the plant native to the Americas is fuelled by the explosion in the popularity of plant-based diets.
The company Hodmedod, pioneers of British-grown pulses, grains and seeds, has been working with farmers Peter and Andrew Fairs, of Great Tey in Essex, to bring the new British crop to market. Continue reading
Another day, another sunflower because, why not? But this story is about much more than the overwhelming attractiveness of sunflowers:
How do you feed an increasing number of people without harming the environment?
As it turns out, growing as much food as possible in a small area may be our best bet for sustainably feeding the world’s population, according to new research.
It all comes down to how we manage greenhouse gases and climate change. Continue reading
Thanks to William Laurance for this informative opinion essay that gives a bit of hope for wilderness preservation:
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.
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
Thanks to our friends at the salt, and National Public Radio (USA) for this:
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
Thanks to Larissa Zimberoff for this:
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.
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
Who 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)
Bikes v cars
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:
A history of modern capitalism from the perspective of the straw. Seriously.
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