Post-Peak Meat

Hundreds of dairy farms across California have sold the rights to their manure to energy producers. Illustration: Ricardo Cavolo/The Guardian

We are always on the lookout for more reasons why reducing beef and dairy consumption makes sense:

Brown gold: the great American manure rush begins

The energy industry is turning waste from dairy farms into renewable natural gas – but will it actually reduce emissions?

Cows in a meadow at a dairy farm in Zundert, the Netherlands.

Have we reached ‘peak meat’? Why one country is trying to limit its number of livestock

On an early August afternoon at Pinnacle Dairy, a farm located near the middle of California’s long Central Valley, 1,300 Jersey cows idle in the shade of open-air barns. Above them whir fans the size of satellites, circulating a breeze as the temperature pushes 100F (38C). Underfoot, a wet layer of feces emits a thick stench that hangs in the air. Just a tad unpleasant, the smell represents a potential goldmine. Continue reading

Reducing Cement’s Carbon Footprint, Improving Its Longevity

PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES

Whether we want buildings to last longer or not, we now know that reducing the carbon footprint of the materials used is a consideration is important:

The Secret to Making Concrete That Lasts 1,000 Years

Scientists have uncovered the Roman recipe for self-repairing cement—which could massively reduce the carbon footprint of the material today.

ROME’S PANTHEON STANDS defiant 2,000 years after it was built, its marble floors sheltered under the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. For decades, researchers have probed samples from Roman concrete structures—tombs, breakwaters, aqueducts, and wharves—to find out why these ancient buildings endure when modern concrete may crumble after only a few decades. Continue reading

Kenya’s Libraries Get The Attention They Deserve

The archives of the McMillan Memorial Library are being digitized. Kenyans are also being invited to bring items such as photographs or letters to create an archive anchored in collective memory. Patrick Meinhardt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Palace is a fine way to think about libraries, and Kenya has a movement to make this metaphor work:

Turning Nairobi’s Public Libraries Into ‘Palaces for the People’

A Kenyan nonprofit is restoring iconic public libraries, leaving behind a segregated past and turning them into inclusive spaces.

A project to preserve libraries such as this one is not a sprint or even a marathon, but a relay, said Lola Shoneyin, a Nigerian novelist. Patrick Meinhardt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In 1931, the first library in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, opened its doors — to white patrons only. Continue reading

UK Plant Prospecting & iNaturalist

While once gardening was somewhat of a battle against nature, people are now working with native plants and animals. Photograph: Kathy deWitt/Alamy

We are happy to see citizen scientists putting this technology to such use anywhere, but particularly gratified to know that a large organization is encouraging its use for such an important initiative:

RHS asks gardeners to find interesting ‘weeds’ that may be rare plants

People urged to submit specimens to an app as private gardens may be fresh source of scientific discovery

Record the “weeds” that pop up in your garden because they could be a rare plant, the Royal Horticultural Society has said. Continue reading

Bravo, Bobbi Wilson!

Bobbi Wilson holds her collection of spotted lanternflies as she is honored at the Yale School of Public Health on Jan. 20. Andrew Hurley/Yale University

A young person doing their part, on their own, to help with an environmental scourge. Hats off to that. The unneighborly act aside, this is a story to celebrate (thanks to National Public Radio, USA) and an extra bravo to Yale University for their part in it:

Yale honors the work of a 9-year-old Black girl whose neighbor reported her to police

Nine-year-old Bobbi Wilson may be in the fourth grade, but last month the Yale School of Public Health held a ceremony honoring the budding scientist’s recent work. Continue reading

Snowpack & Colorado River Recovery

Among the arid lands where water from the Colorado River makes agriculture possible is the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation, which serves Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi, and Navajo peoples. More than 70,000 acres of alfalfa, cotton, potatoes, and other crops are being produced on the reservation. (Image credit: Ted Wood/The Water Desk, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

The Colorado River holds our attention for many reasons, but mostly now due to climate impact. Our thanks to Bob Henson at Yale Climate Connection for this:

Wet winter won’t fix Colorado River woes

“One year of good flows doesn’t mean we have a trend,” noted one expert.

Snowpack has been running well above average this winter across the Colorado River watershed. It’s a rare bright spot after 23 years of grinding megadrought brought the driest conditions in 1,200 years to the basin that supplies 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico. Continue reading

Seasonal King Tides

Washington’s seasonal king tides, shown here at Washaway Beach, are becoming more destructive as sea levels rise. Sarah Trent/High Country News

Our thanks to Sarah Trent, an editorial intern for High Country News based in southwest Washington, for the story and to Mother Jones for sharing it more broadly:

This Experiment Could Help Restore Eroding Coastlines

David Cottrell dropped $400 worth of rock on “washaway beach” to see what would happen. Now engineers are watching, too.

David Cottrell stood on what used to be a 14-foot-high cliff at the crumbled end of Blue Pacific Drive. Just a few years ago, this was the fastest-eroding shoreline on the US Pacific Coast; locals here in North Cove, Washington, dubbed it “washaway beach.” Continue reading

Collaborative Cataloging of Feathered Finery

Architect Esha Munshi and veterinarian Sherwin Everett, founders of the Feather Library

Over the years we talked about feathers from numerous perspectives, including scientific and artistic. Thanks once again to the Guardian for sharing this inspiring Citizen Science story.

Plucky idea: the feather library providing a visual A to Z of India’s birds

Finding a trapped silverbill during lockdown inspired Esha Munshi to create an invaluable record of species in an uncertain world

Esha Munshi, an architect based in Ahmedabad, has “breathed birds” as far back as she can remember. She has travelled all over India on birding trips and has, she says, spotted 1,060 of the 1,400 bird species in the country.

An Indian golden oriole feather, left, and white-throated kingfisher feathers

But it was at home, during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, that she saw an Indian silverbill caught in the protective netting on her balcony, attracting the attention of her cat. Although the bird escaped, some of its feathers were damaged. When Munshi saw the exquisite markings and patterns, she tried to identify the bird, but was struck by how little information there was online.

Continue reading

Renewable Energy Investment Parity

PEXELS

Thanks to Yale e360:

Clean Energy Saw as Much Investment as Fossil Fuels for the First Time in 2022

Solar, wind, electric vehicles, and other clean energy technologies saw a record-high $1.1 trillion in investment globally last year, matching investment in fossil fuels for the first time ever, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Continue reading

Western Water & First User Advantage

The Southwest’s protracted drought has put a strain on an already arid environment. Photograph by Wild Horizon via Getty

Our thanks to Rachel Monroe:

How Native Americans Will Shape the Future of Water in the West

Tribal nations hold the rights to significant portions of the Colorado River. In the increasing drought, some are showing the way to sustainability.

As a child, Stephen Lewis heard stories about a river that, for the most part, no longer flowed. “How I grew up was that it was a theft, that it was stolen from us,” he told me late last year. “There was what we used to call the Mighty Gila River, and now it was just pretty much dry. There was no water.” Continue reading

Yellowstone, Rewilding & 06

The American west has told the rewilding story from multiple perspectives, and this book to the right makes a special place for the she-wolf in that story, according to this review in Inquisitive Biologist:

The wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 are some of the best-studied mammals on the planet. Biological technician and park ranger Rick McIntyre has spent over two decades scrutinizing their daily lives, venturing into the park every single day. Where his previous books focused on three notable alpha* males, it is ultimately the females that call the shots and make the decisions with lasting consequences. This book is a long overdue recognition of the female wolf and continues this multigenerational saga. Continue reading

Bicycles & E-Bike Danger

ILLUSTRATION BY SARAH ANGÈLE WILSON

Bicycle love has been a minor but notable theme in our pages over the years. In more recent years their relationship to electricity has become the focus of more stories, like this one:

The High Cost of Cheap E-Bikes

Electric bicycles are catching on—and their lithium-ion batteries are catching fire. Why is so little being done about it?

Fires and overheating accidents attributed to lithium-ion batteries killed 19 people in the United States in 2022, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In New York City alone, six people died in these uniquely fast-burning infernos. Experts say poorly made batteries, like those often found on cheaper e-bike models, are the primary culprit. So why is it still so easy to purchase them? Continue reading

Seed Bank Futures

Hassan Machlab, a country manager with ICARDA in Lebanon, stands in the middle of a field with newly planted grains at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022. Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Protecting plant species’ futures with seed banks grows greater in importance as time passes, because challenges to the planet multiply. We appreciate updates like this one by Ruth Sherlock and colleagues at National Public Radio (USA):

How ancient seeds from the Fertile Crescent could help save us from climate change

Chickpea grains are tested for various diseases at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022. Dalia Khamissy for NPR

TERBOL, Lebanon — Inside a large freezer room at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, tens of thousands of seeds are stored at a constant temperature of minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit. After being threshed and cleaned, the seeds are placed inside small, sealed foil packets and stored on rows of heavy, sliding metal shelves.

Barley grains stored at the ICARDA research station. Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Some of them may hold keys to helping the planet’s food supply adapt to climate change.

The gene bank can hold as many as 120,000 varieties of plants. Many of the seeds come from crops as old as agriculture itself. They’re sown by farmers in the Fertile Crescent region, where cultivation began some 11,000 years ago. Other seeds were deposited by researchers who’ve hiked in the past four decades through forests and mountains in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, searching for wild relatives of wheat, legumes and other crops that are important to the human diet. Continue reading

The Good Life, Researched, Written & Spoken About

Robert Waldinger, MD has a way with words, and ideas, and life experience, judging by his discussion with Sam Harris. This topic is not typical of most of the content we link to, but for a Tuesday in early 2023 it is as worthwhile as anything we can think to share. Click the image of the book to go to the website where its author introduces it:

Eight decades. Three generations. Thousands of lives.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development is an extraordinary scientific endeavor that began in 1938 and is still going strong (Waldinger is the fourth director, and Schulz its associate director). For over eight decades, the study has tracked the same individuals and their families, asking thousands of questions and taking hundreds of measurements—from brain scans to blood work—with the goal of discovering what really makes for a good life.

Through all the years of studying these lives, strong relationships stand out for their impact on physical health, mental health, and longevity. Waldinger and Schulz boil it down simply:

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

New York Waters Are Clean Enough For Fun Again

A pod of dolphins just outside New York harbor. Carsten Brandt/Getty

Our thanks to Oliver Milman, Mother Jones and the Climate Desk collaboration for this, and we hope the frolicking continues:

To New Yorkers’ Delight, Dolphins Return to the Bronx River

“We’ve come a long way.”

Dolphins have been spotted frolicking in New York City’s Bronx River, an encouraging sign of the improving health of a waterway that was for many years befouled as a sewer for industrial waste. Continue reading

The Remarkable Efficiency Of Heat Pumps, Explained

Heat pumps use electricity to compress a refrigerant, raising its temperature. IEA

Heat pumps have only been a passing reference occasionally in these pages, but today they are the focus, thanks to Paul Hockenos in Yale e360:

In Europe’s Clean Energy Transition, Industry Turns to Heat Pumps

With soaring gas prices due to the Ukraine war and the EU’s push to cut emissions, European industries are increasingly switching to high-temperature, high-efficiency heat pumps. Combined with the boom in residential use, the EU is now hoping for a heat pump revolution.

An industrial heat pump at the Mars Confectionery in Veghel, the Netherlands. GEA

The Wienerberger brickworks in Uttendorf, Austria, in the Tyrolean Alps, has always required a steady stream of 90 degree C (194 degree F) heat to dry its construction blocks. This process would have been an expensive proposition for the company after Russia cut gas exports to Europe, as it was for most of Europe’s energy-intensive construction industry. But four years ago, Wienerberger — the largest brick producer in the world — made an investment in the future that is now paying off: it replaced Uttendorf’s gas-fired boiler with an industrial-scale heat pump, which whittles the factory’s energy bill by around 425,00 euros a year. Continue reading

Good Chocolate

‘The only way to ensure that money is going into a farmer’s pocket is to buy directly from farmers.’

‘The only way to ensure that money is going into a farmer’s pocket is to buy directly from farmers.’ Illustration: Rita Liu/The Guardian

We have been avid readers on the topic of chocolate for almost as long as we have been sharing articles on this platform:

The sweet spot: is ethical and affordable chocolate possible?

It is possible to pay farmers a premium while selling single-origin chocolate at a cheaper price – but it means companies have to transform the way it’s made

Is it possible to make an ethical chocolate bar that’s also affordable? Tim McCollum, the founder of the bean-to-bar chocolate brand Beyond Good, says the answer is yes – but you have to transform the way it’s made. Continue reading

Aeon & The Rise Of Maize In Asia

On the outskirts of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southwestern China, 6 November 2006. Photo by stringer/Reuters

Aeon was a regular source of excellent ideas and information during our first few years, and we are happy to see it again:

Maize is arguably the single most important crop in the world and is rivalled only by soybeans in terms of versatility. That said, it is, along with sugar cane and palm oil, among the most controversial crops, proving particularly so to critics of industrial agriculture. Although maize is usually associated with the Western world, it has played a prominent role in Asia for a long time, and, in recent decades, its importance in Asia has soared. For better or worse, or more likely for better and worse, its role in Asia seems to be following the Western script. Continue reading

More Metrics For Animal Intelligence

(Credit: Viesinsh/Shutterstock)

We appreciate Conor Feehly’s article in Discover, expanding our understanding of and ability to measure the intelligence of our co-inhabitants on this planet:

How Intelligence Is Measured In The Animal Kingdom

As understandings of human intelligence evolve, so, too, do understandings of animal intelligence.

Human beings — with our big brains, technology and mastery of language — like to describe ourselves as the most intelligent species. After all, we’re capable of reaching space, prolonging our lives and understanding the world around us. Over time, however, our understanding of intelligence has gotten a little more complicated. Continue reading

Animal Justice With Martha Nussbaum, The Philosopher Of Feelings

Martha Nussbaum has never appeared in our pages, nor has this podcast series. Moral philosophy is usually (but not always) outside the range of topics we pay attention to. But when the topic is animal justice, we are in. If you want a primer prior to the discussion, this profile helps:

“What I am calling for” Nussbaum writes is “a society of citizens who admit that they are needy and vulnerable.”

“What I am calling for,” Nussbaum writes, is “a society of citizens who admit that they are needy and vulnerable.” Photograph by Jeff Brown for The New Yorker

The Philosopher of Feelings

Martha Nussbaum’s far-reaching ideas illuminate the often ignored elements of human life—aging, inequality, and emotion.

Martha Nussbaum was preparing to give a lecture at Trinity College, Dublin, in April, 1992, when she learned that her mother was dying in a hospital in Philadelphia. She couldn’t get a flight until the next day. That evening, Nussbaum, one of the foremost philosophers in America, gave her scheduled lecture, on the nature of emotions. “I thought, It’s inhuman—I shouldn’t be able to do this,” she said later. Then she thought, Well, of course I should do this. I mean, here I am. Why should I not do it? The audience is there, and they want to have the lecture. Continue reading