Last week, researchers at nasa and noaa found that “the earth is warming faster than expected.” Photograph by Kyle Grillot / Bloomberg / Getty
This week’s newsletter ponders how adaptable we are and serves as a reminder that we cannot take for granted that we are sufficiently so for the changes upon us:
A solar power plant in Gujarat, India. Renewable energy in the country would be cheaper than between 87% and 91% of new coal plants, the report says. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters
Looks like we are almost there:
Almost two-thirds of renewable energy schemes built globally last year expected to undercut coal costs
Almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally last year will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the world’s cheapest new coal plants, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Continue reading
Solar Foods, a Finnish company, makes a weird promise on the landing page of its website; but still, thanks to the Guardian for this story behind the story:
A soya bean field in Argentina. The study found a hectare of soya beans could feed 40 people, the solar-microbial process 520 per hectare. Photograph: Ivan Pisarenko/AFP/Getty Images
The system would also have very little impact on the environment, in contrast to livestock farming, scientists say
Combining solar power and microbes could produce 10 times more protein than crops such as soya beans, according to a new study. Continue reading
Again, exceptional infographics tell an important environmental story–it is worth opening if only for the quality of the interactive illustrations:
The warming atmosphere is causing an arm of the powerful Gulf Stream to weaken, some scientists fear.
By MOISES VELASQUEZ-MANOFF
and JEREMY WHITE
IT’S ONE OF THE MIGHTIEST RIVERS you will never see, carrying some 30 times more water than all the world’s freshwater rivers combined. In the North Atlantic, one arm of the Gulf Stream breaks toward Iceland, transporting vast amounts of warmth far northward, by one estimate supplying Scandinavia with heat equivalent to 78,000 times its current energy use. Without this current — a heat pump on a planetary scale — scientists believe that great swaths of the world might look quite different. Continue reading
Whimbrel returning to Deveaux Bank for their night roost. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
We have not featured Deborah Cramer in our pages previously, but this seems like a fine time to start. She is a visiting scholar at M.I.T.’s Environmental Solutions Initiative and the author of the book to the right. Accompanied by excellent photographs from Damon Winter as well as exceptionally lucid infographics, her interactive essay in the New York Times is a forceful plea for conservation of a sensitive bird habitat:
An Oystercatcher on the bank. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
An ever-changing spit of sand on the Carolina coast is a haven for multitudes of shorebirds. But nature and humans threaten it.
ABOUT 20 MILES south of Charleston, S.C., at the mouth of the North Edisto River, a small, horseshoe-shaped sandbar rises above the water. The claim of land is tenuous on Deveaux Bank, about a half-mile offshore. At high tide, it’s three-quarters submerged. Deveaux’s sand is continually shifting as swirling currents build it up and wash it away. In some years, the island disappears altogether. Continue reading
At least a couple times have we have riffed on the chestnut about making lemonade when you have lemons, so today marks one more, woolly edition.
Ponderosa pine, now widely distributed in North America, were exceedingly rare during the last ice age. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / GETTY IMAGES
Thanks to Zach St. George for this:
Previous periods of rapid warming millions of years ago drastically altered plants and forests on Earth. Now, scientists see the beginnings of a more sudden, disruptive rearrangement of the world’s flora — a trend that will intensify if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in. Continue reading
A section of the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline in Superior, Wis. Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune, via Associated Press
McKibben, always ahead of the curve, has this proposal for us all to consider:
Michael Siluk/Education Images — Universal Images Group via Getty Images
The announcement this week from the Canadian company TC Energy that it was pulling the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline project was greeted with jubilation by Indigenous groups, farmers and ranchers, climate scientists and other activists who have spent the last decade fighting its construction.
The question now is whether it will be a one-off victory or a template for action going forward — as it must, if we’re serious about either climate change or human rights. Continue reading
Guardian graphic | Source: Morales-Caselles et al, Nature Sustainability, 2021
Thanks, Damian Carrington, for getting us the data that Morales-Caselles et al compiled making us wonder whether convenience is worth this cost:
Just 10 plastic products make up 75% of all items and scientists say the pollution must be stopped at source
Plastic items from takeaway food and drink dominate the litter in the world’s oceans, according to the most comprehensive study to date. Continue reading
Wild Asian elephants lie on the ground and rest in Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province, China June 7, 2021. A herd of 15 wild elephants has trekked hundreds of kilometres after leaving their forest habitat in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, according to local media. Picture taken June 7, 2021 with a drone. China Daily via REUTERS
It has been awhile, too long, since we nodded to Alan Taylor’s photo selections, so here is to closing out the week with images:
An optical illusion at the Eiffel Tower, scenes from the French Open, a surfing competition in El Salvador, a presidential election in Peru, Olympic qualifying skateboarding trials in Italy, a giant sinkhole in Mexico, a sunrise annular eclipse seen in New York City, a platypus health check in Australia, and much more
A Lupine field in full bloom is pictured near Sollested on Lolland island in Denmark on June 8, 2021. – Denmark OUT (Photo by Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP) / Denmark OUT (Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)
The National Bison Range in Montana, now managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. DAVE FITZPATRICK / U.S.FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
Thanks to Jim Robbins, as always, for this look into How Returning Lands to Native Tribes Is Helping Protect Nature:
From California to Maine, land is being given back to Native American tribes who are committing to managing it for conservation. Some tribes are using traditional knowledge, from how to support wildlife to the use of prescribed fires, to protect their ancestral grounds.
In 1908 the U.S. government seized some 18,000 acres of land from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to create the National Bison Range in the heart of their reservation in the mountain-ringed Mission Valley of western Montana.
While the goal of protecting the remnants of America’s once-plentiful bison was worthy, for the last century the federal facility has been a symbol to the tribes here of the injustices forced upon them by the government, and they have long fought to get the bison range returned. Continue reading
Houseboats on the shrinking Lake Oroville reservoir in California last month. Many have now been removed from the lake. Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
We knew a bit about almonds being very thirsty trees, but when you see the trees being uprooted, it becomes even more real. The questions surrounding drought are too much for a short article, so thanks to one of our favored science writers, Henry Fountain, for keeping this focused:
Answers to questions about the current situation in California and the Western half of the United States.
Almond trees are removed from an orchard in Snelling, Calif. Farmers are making plans to plant less water-intensive crops because of the drought. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Much of the Western half of the United States is in the grip of a severe drought of historic proportions. Conditions are especially bad in California and the Southwest, but the drought extends into the Pacific Northwest, much of the Intermountain West, and even the Northern Plains.
Drought emergencies have been declared. Farmers and ranchers are suffering. States are facing water cutbacks. Large wildfires are burning earlier than usual. And there appears to be little relief in sight.
What is a drought, exactly?
There are no precise parameters that define a drought, but it is generally understood to mean a period of abnormally dry weather that goes on for long enough to have an impact on water supplies, farming, livestock operations, energy production and other activities. Continue reading
Nelson, picking burdock.
Most of us, top of mind, would mention visual and olfactory pleasures as the primary sensation that flowers wow us with. Thanks to Helen Rosner for reminding us, and to Alexis Nikole Nelson for demonstrating to us, the other sensory pleasures of (some) flowers:
Nothing takes me back to the Midwestern pastoral of my youth quite like the smells of springtime: freshly cut grass with an edge of lawnmower fuel, the sweet ozone of an imminent thunderstorm. Most of all, it’s lilac bushes, which grow stately and ragged in the hard soil of Chicago’s front yards, or peek over back fences to wave down the alleyways. In May, the tiny purple flowers would open; by June, their thick perfume hung in a haze around each bush, the barest breeze sending out intoxicating eddies of rich scent. When I left home and moved to the East Coast, I sometimes bought cheap lilac colognes—there are plenty of lilacs out here, too, but sometimes a person is a little homesick and needs a whiff on demand. Scent, so neurologically intertwined with memory, is an emotional catapult, and I found that even the clumsiest molecular facsimile of lilac would get the job done. Continue reading
Thanks to Veronique Greenwood for this:
A small experiment using sleights of hand and illusions offers insights into how birds and people perceive the world.
The coin is in the illusionist’s left hand, now it’s in the right — or is it? Sleight of hand tricks are old standbys for magicians, street performers and people who’ve had a little too much to drink at parties. Continue reading
The pressure has been mounting for some time, but it is finally causing needed changes. There were plenty of headlines late last week, but only today do we feel this news means something potentially lasting:
An activist hedge fund succeeds in nominating at least two climate-friendly directors to the energy giant’s board
“The stone age did not end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of petroleum.” That battle cry animates critics of Big Oil, who dream of phasing out hydrocarbons in favour of cleaner fuels and technologies. Continue reading
Thanks to Anelise Chen, for this story in the Atlantic, for signaling that summer is here for those in the northern hemisphere:
One man’s journey through public waterways—whether sparkling or dirty or algae-filled—challenges us to look differently at the commons.
Some months ago, as the weather was first turning warm, I was out walking along the Mill River in New Haven when I saw a young man emerge from the water. He appeared to have gone for a swim wearing nothing more than boxer briefs. The sight was shocking; the river had barely thawed, and I’d always thought the unspoken rule about urban rivers was that you didn’t get into them (especially not half naked). This particular stretch at the base of East Rock Park looked idyllic enough, with willows and elms growing along its banks, but around the bend, the water passed through an industrial area with rotting factories and massive dunes of road salt. Continue reading
Longleaf pines once covered 90 million acres from Virginia to east Texas but today only about 5 percent of historic range remains intact. Marion Clifton Davis was a modern conservationist who bought tens of thousands of acres in the Florida sandhills and turned them into a private reserve, a project aimed at restoring back the Longleaf pine forest. (Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife, Flickr, CC BY ND 2.0)
When you have 12 minutes to spare, listen to Tony Hiss talk about his new book on this excellent episode of Living On Earth, and if you decide to buy the book and want to avoid Amazon click the image of the book below:
The Boreal Forest is the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem and is a carbon sink. It’s estimated that if global warming exceeds the 3-5 degree Celsius heat stress and water scarcity could trigger extensive forest death and a dangerous release of the stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Photo: Kevin Owen, Flickr, CC BY NC ND 2.0)
Climate change is placing stress on plants and animals to rapidly adapt but without intact habitat, that could become impossible for many. Tony Hiss is an award-winning author and joins Host Bobby Bascomb to talk about his book Rescuing the Planet: Protecting Half the Land to Heal the Earth, which looks at several places across North America where communities are already working to protect habitat and biodiversity.
BASCOMB: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.
During his first few days in office President Biden announced the goal of protecting 30 percent of US land and water by the year 2030 with a long term goal of 50 percent by 2050. Continue reading
A swift looks out of a nest brick. The bricks are helping to restore nesting sites lost to building modernisation. Photograph: Simon Stirrup
Seth first brought our attention to funky nests during his years working for the Celebrate Urban Birds program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We have done our best with and without Seth to continue to pay attention to bird nesting, funky or not. This news is more than welcome on the purposefully funky bird nests showing up in the UK:
Many swifts flying back to Britain will find their summer nests lost to building renovations. But bird bricks are offering them an alternative home
Swifts flock over rooftops in Wiltshire. The migratory birds spend just three summer months in the UK to breed. Photograph: Nick Upton/NPL
Eagerly anticipated by many, it is a thrilling moment when you first hear the distinctive screech or catch sight of the long, tapered wings of the first swifts arriving for the summer. For thousands of years they have looped to the British Isles from Africa to raise the next generation, taking advantage of the long daylight hours in the north and the opportunity to scour the skies for insects from dawn to dusk. Continue reading
A villager walks through a haze from fires in burned peatland at an oil palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. MUHAMMAD ADIMAJA / GREENPEACE
For all the attention we have given palm oil in the decade of posting links to stories here, strange that Jocelyn Zuckerman only appears once in our pages before today. As with fossil fuels the onus should not be entirely on individuals as consumers; collective action and public policy are essential tools to limiting the damage that corporate palm interests have been causing, relatively unchecked, for too long. We thank her for this clear, strong statement:
The cultivation of palm oil, found in roughly half of U.S. grocery products, has devastated tropical ecosystems, released vast amounts of C02 into the atmosphere, and impoverished rural communities. But efforts are underway that could curb the abuses of this powerful industry.
A few weeks ago, the Sri Lankan president announced that his government would ban all imports of palm oil, with immediate effect, and ordered the country’s plantation companies to begin uprooting their oil-palm monocultures and replacing them with more environmentally friendly crops. Citing concerns about soil erosion, water scarcity, and threats to biodiversity and public health, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa explained that his aim was to “make the country free from oil palm plantations and palm oil consumption.” Continue reading