Really, World Bank?

We knew there were still agents of climate skepticism, and even deniers, in important positions of influence. But the person trusted to lead the World Bank is among the last we would expect to be one of them. Really. Read about it in Bill McKibben’s newsletter:

The Global Banker Who’s Not Sure the Globe is Warming

Biden’s Easiest Climate Call Ever is to Ditch David Malpass

Some essential climate tasks are hard and expensive and take years.

And a few could not be easier. President Biden needs—now—to get rid of David Malpass as the head of the World Bank. Continue reading

Ant Mass Calculation

In this photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, yellow crazy ants are seen in a bait testing efficacy trial at the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in December, 2015. An invasive species known as the yellow crazy ant has been eradicated from the remote U.S. atoll in the Pacific. Robert Peck/AP

The mass of ants on earth is not a topic we have considered, but there is not too much surprise at reading this news:

The number of ants on Earth has a mass greater than all birds and mammals combined

For every human on Earth, there are estimated to be about 2.5 million ants — or 20 quadrillion in total.

A new study published by researchers at both the University of Hong Kong and University of Würzburg in Germany attempts to count the total number of ground-dwelling and tree-dwelling ants. Continue reading

Solar@School, Win-Win-Win

Solar panels installed near the Heart-Butte schools in Montana. Janie Osborne for The New York Times

Two elementary school students stand at table covered in papers, markers and other school materials, and face a wall with a poster map of Montana, divided by tribal territories. The child at left uses an orange marker to point at an area called “Blackfeet & Gros Ventre.”

Students at Heart-Butte School exploring their area of the world on a map in the “Blackfeet Immersion” classroom. Janie Osborne for The New York Times

In the USA it has become normal to think that partisan divisions prevent collaboration on issues of common interest. The partisan divisions are real, and then some; but there are silver linings here and there.  Cara Buckley, a climate reporter, continues to demonstrate a talent for finding cases where communities benefit from collective action in the act of taking better care of the environment:

Black and white goats frolic in grass on a field, which is fenced off and behind which is a series of solar panels angled at the sun. Trees line the horizon.

Goats cared for by Batesville High School’s 4-H students, next to the school’s solar panels. “If you’re conservative, we didn’t ask you for more taxes, if you’re liberal, you love the green concept,” Dr. Hester said. Terra Fondriest for The New York Times

Facing Budget Shortfalls, These Schools Are Turning to the Sun

Public schools are increasingly using savings from solar energy to upgrade facilities, help their communities, and give teachers raises — often with no cost to taxpayers.

One school district was able to give pay raises to its teachers as big as 30 percent. Another bought new heating and ventilation systems, all the better to help students and educators breathe easier in these times. The improvements didn’t cost taxpayers a cent, and were paid for by an endlessly renewable source — the sun.

Mike Tatsey, in jeans and a light blue plaid short sleeve shirt, his thumbs hooked into his jean pockets, stands in a field with solar panes in the background. Brush partially obscures the foreground.

Mike Tatsey, superintendent of schools in Heart-Butte, believes that freeing up extra money for staples like groceries and shoes could have a ripple effect in classrooms. Janie Osborne for The New York Times

As solar energy gains traction across the country, one beneficiary have been schools, particularly those in cash-strapped districts contending with dwindling tax bases.

From New Jersey to California, nearly one in 10 K-12 public and private schools across the country were using solar energy by early 2022, according to data released Thursday by Generation180, a nonprofit that promotes and tracks clean energy. That’s twice as many as existed in 2015. Continue reading

Unintended Consequences Of A Green Energy Strategy

This multimedia story explains powerfully how one of Europe’s green energy strategies went awry:

Europe Is Sacrificing Its Ancient Forests for Energy

Governments bet billions on burning timber for green power. The Times went deep into one of the continent’s oldest woodlands to track the hidden cost.

Burning wood was never supposed to be the cornerstone of the European Union’s green energy strategy.

When the bloc began subsidizing wood burning over a decade ago, it was seen as a quick boost for renewable fuel and an incentive to move homes and power plants away from coal and gas. Chips and pellets were marketed as a way to turn sawdust waste into green power. Continue reading

Heat-Beating Strategies For Birds

Splooting works for some species but birds can use our assistance with other strategies:

How to Help Birds Beat the Heat

Extreme temperatures add stress to already-fragile ecosystems. Here’s how you can help birds stay cool.

Extreme weather events like heat waves remind us of how urgent the climate crisis really is. Continue reading

Splooting To Beat The Heat

A squirrel in full “sploot” posture. Credit: Debra L Tuttle/Getty Images

Funny as it sounds, it is worth considering how animals deal with heat:

During a Heat Wave, You Can Blast the AC, but What Does a Squirrel Do?

Although recent spikes in temperature affect all of us, our urban critters have had to find their own ways to beat the heat. Sometimes they “sploot.”

It’s summertime in New York City–birds are chirping, insects are scurrying, and everything feels alive! While recent heat waves have pushed a lot of us indoors to the respite of air conditioning, the critters of this city were left to fend for themselves. Continue reading

The 150 Most Consequential Years

Amanda Northrop/Vox; Getty Images

Our thanks to Vox for this conversation with one of the great economic historians of our time:

Humanity was stagnant for millennia — then something big changed 150 years ago

Why the years from 1870 to 2010 were humanity’s most important.

“The 140 years from 1870 to 2010 of the long twentieth century were, I strongly believe, the most consequential years of all humanity’s centuries.”

So argues Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century, the new magnum opus from UC Berkeley professor Brad DeLong. It’s a bold claim. Homo sapiens has been around for at least 300,000 years; the “long twentieth century” represents 0.05 percent of that history.

But to DeLong, who beyond his academic work is known for his widely read blog on economics, something incredible happened in that sliver of time that eluded our species for the other 99.95 percent of our history. Continue reading

Lionfish, Competition & The Big Tournament

“What you’re hunting isn’t prey,” a lionfish diver told me. “It’s the enemy.”Illustrations by Johnny Dombrowski

D. T. Max has vividly sketched humans in competitive mode, harnessing tournament rules to address the aggressions of this introduced species. In the decades-long perspective, lionfish are winning the bigger tournament by adapting and expanding their range; but we admire the drive to end that success:

Killing Invasive Species Is Now a Competitive Sport

In the Panhandle, where swarms of lionfish gobble up native species, a tournament offers cash prizes to divers skilled at spearing one predator after another.

Rachel Bowman is a diver who specializes in the hunting, catching, and killing of lionfish, a species native to Indo-Pacific waters. Continue reading

Smart Cities, Japan Edition

A delivery robot makes its rounds at Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town in Japan.Credit: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO/Alamy

Frustrated but determined leadership on environmental challenges facing urban constituencies is worthy of our attention and even admiration, even if “smart cities” can be problematic terminology. Nature magazine offers this snapshot from Japan:

Houses equipped with solar panels in Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town.Credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty

Why Japan is building smart cities from scratch

Purpose-built sustainable communities can boost energy efficiency and support an ageing population.

By 2050, nearly 7 out of 10 people in the world will live in cities, up from just over half in 2020. Urbanization is nothing new, but an effort is under way across many high-income countries to make their cities smarter, using data, instrumentation and more efficient resource management. Continue reading

The Philosophers’ Stone In Appalachia

Illustration by Leif Gann-Matzen

Our gratitude to Eliza Griswold, writing in the New Yorker this week, for a look at research hinting at a potential solution to myriad challenges, that has the ring of alchemy to it:

Could Coal Waste Be Used to Make Sustainable Batteries?

Acid mine drainage has long been a scourge in Appalachia. Recent research suggests that we may be able to simultaneously clean up the pollution and extract the minerals and elements needed to power green technologies.

On a recent afternoon, near the headwaters of Deckers Creek, in West Virginia, Paul Ziemkiewicz, the biological scientist who directs the Water Research Institute at West Virginia University, squatted by a blood-red trickle seeping from a hillside. Continue reading

Le Paon Qui Boit, Authenticity & Innovation

Augustin Laborde pouring a glass of non alcoholic wine at Le Paon Qui Boit in Paris on Aug. 26. Matthew Avignone for NPR

Our thanks to Rebecca Rosman for this story from Paris. Here is another case where authenticity (which we care about enough to name our work for it) and traditional “taste of place” products can take a back seat to creativity and innovation. For those who have gone dry(er) and have been passionate about wine for reasons other than alcohol content, this story is for you:

A Paris shop gets in on the non-alcoholic wine trend. Will the French drink it?

A customer grabs a non-alcoholic drink at Le Paon Qui Boit in Paris on Aug. 26. Matthew Avignone for NPR

PARIS — Augustin Laborde quit drinking during the early stages of the pandemic two years ago. Butwhen things finally opened up, he says meeting up with friends in bars quickly became a frustrating experience.

“My only options were basically sugary soda or fruit juice,” he says.

So Laborde, a lawyer with a passion for side projects, started doing some internet research. Continue reading

The Treefest Walks

The Treefest walks are part of a £14.5m research quest investigating how to secure public benefits from forested landscapes. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

When is a walk in the woods more than just a walk? One answer might be biophilia, for starters. Our thanks to Miles Richardson for his work and to Patrick Barkham, as per his usual breadth of attention, for bringing another important story to our attention:

‘I’m glowing’: scientists are unlocking secrets of why forests make us happy

Research project aims to discover how age, size and shape of woodlands affect people’s happiness and wellbeing

Miles Richardson is gathering data from the Treefest research walks to examine how biodiverse spaces benefit wellbeing. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

How happy do you feel right now? The question is asked by an app on my phone, and I drag the slider to the space between “not much” and “somewhat”. I’m about to start a walk in the woods that is part of a nationwide research project to investigate how better to design the forests of the future.

Volunteers are being sought to record their feelings before and after eight walks on a free app, Go Jauntly, which could reveal what kind of treescapes most benefit our wellbeing and mental health. Continue reading

Really, Washington Post?

Before we compromise further on planet earth, the question Really? is often a good place to start. Let’s be sure our revered journalists and the publications they work for call apples as apples, and oranges as oranges, says Bill McKibben:

A pipeline is not a windmill

Rally Thursday Against Manchin’s Dirty Deal–and Do Some Lobbying in the Meantime!

The Washington Post, which has done remarkable climate reporting in recent years, had a less successful story in this morning’s paper. Continue reading

More Insects In Our Diet

Mealworms, the larval form of the yellow mealworm beetle, have been cooked with sugar by researchers who found that the result is a meat-like flavoring. Photograph: image BROKER/Alamy

Thanks again to Oliver Milman, after a long while,  for this article in the Guardian. The photo is clickbait, so try not to let it get in the way. The story is worthy of attention, unless you are vegan, because of its prediction about how commonplace eating insects will be for most of us in the not too distant future; or should be:

Flavorings made from mealworms could one day be used on convenience food as a source of protein

Insects can be turned into meat-like flavors, helping provide a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional meat options, scientists have discovered. Continue reading

Re-Organizing In Northern Spain

Landscape of Mondragon. Workers eating from a roast capitalist pig that is being carved by a mechanical arm.

Illustration by James Clapham

With all the problems created by the status quo business practices and economic models, alternatives for organizing business are worthy of our consideration. Nick Romeo offers a look into the challenges facing the most important worker-owned company in the world:

How Mondragon Became the World’s Largest Co-Op

In Spain, an industrial-sized conglomerate owned by its workers suggests an alternative future for capitalism.

Jorge Vega Hernández, a mechanical engineer working in northwestern Spain, returned from a business trip and started to feel sick. It was March, 2020—the beginning of the pandemic—and so he called a government help line. Continue reading

Carbon Burial Venturing

Port Arthur’s Motiva Oil Refinery.PHOTOGRAPH: KATIE THOMPSON

The capturing of carbon is a concept we have been working to understand, but questions about where it goes  and how it is stored, have been fuzzy until now (thanks to Jeffrey Ball at Wired):

Tip Meckel holds a sandstone sample. PHOTOGRAPH: KATIE THOMPSON

The Big Business of Burying Carbon

The porous rock beneath the Gulf Coast launched the petroleum age. Now entrepreneurs want to turn it into a gigantic sponge for storing CO2.

SOMETIME AFTER THE dinosaurs died, sediment started pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. Hour after hour the rivers brought it in—sand from the infant Rockies, the mucky stuff of ecosystems. Year after year the layers of sand hardened into strata of sandstone, pushed down ever deeper into the terrestrial pressure cooker. Continue reading

England’s Green And Pleasant Land

Solar farm in Wroughton, England. Planning permission for 23 solar farms has been refused across England, Wales and Scotland between January 2021 and July 2022. Photograph: Chris Gorman/Getty Images

Nature gets disrupted even by the most sensitively planned green solutions. Here is a parallel story to yesterday’s, with solar replacing wind and England replacing Western USA, illustrating the challenges facing renewable energy:

Exclusive: Projects which would have cut annual electricity bills by £100m turned down

Solar farms are being refused planning permission in Great Britain at the highest rate in five years, analysis has found, with projects which would have cut £100m off annual electricity bills turned down in the past 18 months.

Continue reading

Western Wind Power’s Impacts

Pads have been cleared in preparation for massive wind turbines at Overland Trail Ranch. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Wind power is part of our future. Full stop. But it is worth thinking about how the infrastructure for that power will change places of vast beauty and tradition.

A worker herds cattle at Overland Trail Ranch as a snowstorm moves in. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

This article by Sammy Roth, with photography by Robert Gauthier, is a worthy thought piece on what we gain, what we give up, and who decides how and where wind energy comes to town:

This power line could save California — and forever change the American West

PacifiCorp’s Ekola Flats wind farm has 63 turbines, most of them rated at 4.3 megawatts — almost six times as much power as some of the old steel-lattice wind towers in the California desert outside Palm Springs. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

I know the wind turbine blades aren’t going to kill me. At least, I’m pretty sure.

No matter how many times I watch the slender arms swoop down toward me — packing as much punch as 20 Ford F-150 pickup trucks — it’s hard to shake the feeling they’re going to knock me off my feet. They sweep within a few dozen feet of the ground before launching back toward the heavens, reaching nearly 500 feet above my head — higher than the highest redwood.

They’re eerily quiet, emitting only a low hum. But in the howling wind, the tips could be barreling past at 183 mph. Continue reading

When Is Enough Enough In The Outer Banks?

North Carolina’s Outer Banks. YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Gilbert M. Gaul, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the book The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas and the Cost of America’s Coastsoffers this assessment of coastal development that shows some folks do not seem to know when to stop:

Shifting Sands: Carolina’s Outer Banks Face a Precarious Future

Despite the risks of building on barrier islands, developers kept constructing homes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Now, as sea level rises and storms become more frequent and powerful, the famed vacation spot is fighting an increasingly difficult battle to keep from washing away.

Rounding the corner near the village of Rodanthe, there is a stretch of highway known as the S-Curves because of its twisting loops and turns. It is, by almost any measure, one of the most vulnerable sections of roadway in North Carolina, if not the nation. Continue reading