Fuzz, Author Interview

Macaques check out a camera in Galtaji Temple in Jaipur, India. Monkeys have been known to sneak into swimming pools, courts and even the halls of India’s Parliament. One attorney told author Mary Roach about a macaque that infiltrated a medical institute and began pulling out patient IVs. Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This conversation with the author Mary Roach is plentiful with surprises about the human-animal interface, occasionally unfortunate and sometimes hilarious:

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach. Penguin Random House

Animals living among us often ignore the rules we try to impose on them. Science writer Mary Roach experienced this firsthand when a group of macaque monkeys accosted her in India.

“I was kind of asking for it,” Roach admits. “I walked up this trail where I knew there were a lot of macaques, and I walked up holding a bag of bananas.”

At first, nothing happened. Then Roach saw a monkey pop its head up from behind a boulder, “kind of like the bandits waiting for the stagecoach.” Continue reading

Perfume & Museum

General view of the International Perfume Museum’s gardens in Grasse. “The same rose or the same jasmine grown in Egypt or Morocco, it will be different from the rose grown in Grasse,” head gardener Christophe Meze says. “It’s like wine, you can have the same type of grape, but you won’t have the same wine because of the sun, because of the soil, because of the terroir.” Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

Perfume appeared early in our pages mostly due to their botanical intrigue–but has only been an occasional topic since then. This story of how the perfume trade developed (if the topic is of greater interest see Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent) in Grasse is a fine fit with our interest in unusual museums and the intersection of farming and innovation:

In France’s Perfume Capital Of The World, There’s A World Of Beautiful Fragrance

Perfume flower grower Pierre Chiarla picks jasmine flowers in his field in Grasse, France. Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

GRASSE, France — The town of Grasse sits in the hills above the more famous French Riviera city of Cannes, and it doesn’t have the Mediterranean Sea at its doorstep. What it does have is fields of flowers — jasmine, May rose, tuberose, lavender. It is known as the perfume capital of the world.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the industry took off in Grasse in part because this was an absolutely putrid-smelling town. Continue reading

Barefoot In The Park A Long, Long Time Ago

The Economist brought this to our attention with a brief mention that An old lake bed reveals evidence of America’s first inhabitants – They walked there at least 23,000 years ago. We followed that up with a search on the topic that led to this further detail in the Cornell Chronicle:

David Bustos/Provided. Thomas Urban conducts magnetometer survey of mammoth footprints at White Sands.

Earliest evidence of human activity in the Americas found

Provided. Footprints found at White Sands National Park in New Mexico, providing the earliest evidence of human activity in the Americas.

Footprints found at White Sands National Park in New Mexico provide the earliest unequivocal evidence of human activity in the Americas and offer insight into life over 23,000 years ago.

The footprints were formed in soft mud on the margins of a shallow lake that now forms part of Alkali Flat, a large playa at White Sands. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey dated these tracks using radiocarbon dating of seed layers above and below the footprint horizons. The dates range in age and confirm human presence over at least two millennia with the oldest tracks dating from around 23,000 years ago, Continue reading

Save The Waves @ Arroyo San Miguel

The young man who we met 15 years ago is going strong. Save The Waves Coalition has pulled off another small miracle:

SAN MIGUEL SURF BREAK PROTECTED WITH LANDMARK CREATION OF BAJA CALIFORNIA’S FIRST STATE PARK

Save The Waves Coalition and Pronatura Noroeste achieve approval for Arroyo San Miguel

In a historic moment for environmental and surf conservation, the first state park in Baja California, Mexico was officially approved, providing long-lasting protection for the iconic San Miguel wave alongside 67 hectares of green space.

The local initiative spearheaded by Pronatura Noroeste AC, and joined by international nonprofit Save The Waves Coalition (STW), has been in the works for years. Today, the campaign to legally protect San Miguel becomes a reality. Continue reading

How To Define Species

During the most recent ice age, glaciers divided an ancestral population of crows; one group became all-black carrion crows, the other hooded crows with gray breasts and bodies. Illustrations by François-Nicolas Martinet / Alamy

Protecting species from extinction has been a running theme in our pages over the years. Underlying these many stories was an assumption, at least on our part, that defining boundaries between species is settled science. We will no longer take that for granted:

Where Do Species Come From?

By studying crows, a German biologist has helped to solve a centuries-old mystery.

The evolutionary biologist Jochen Wolf was working from home when we first spoke, in April, 2020. Germany was under lockdown, and his lab, at Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich, had been closed for weeks. Still, a reminder of his research had followed him from the office. “I have a crow nest right in front of me,” Wolf said, from his rooftop terrace. The nest was well hidden at the top of a tall spruce tree. Through the branches, Wolf could see a female crow sitting on her eggs. Continue reading

Green Steel On The Horizon

The steel industry produces around two billion tons of it each year, while emitting more than three billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. Photograph by Christine Olsson / Alamy

The ratio of carbon dioxide produced, relative to steel produced, is surprising. The bigger surprise is how to improve that ratio:

The Promise of Carbon-Neutral Steel

A new manufacturing technique could drastically reduce the footprint of one of our dirtiest materials.

Steel production accounts for around seven per cent of humanity’s greenhouse-gas emissions. There are two reasons for this startling fact. First, steel is made using metallurgic methods that our Iron Age forebears would find familiar; second, it is part of seemingly everything, including buildings, bridges, fridges, planes, trains, and automobiles. According to some estimates, global demand for steel will nearly double by 2050. Green steel, therefore, is urgently needed if we’re to confront climate change. Continue reading

Keep Peat In Place

Peat bogs on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. ALAN NOVELLI / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Peat made two appearances in our pages in 2014, both underscoring the importance of this type of landscape for storing carbon. More such stories in 2017 and again last year made it clear how the case has been building over the years:

Why Saving World’s Peatlands Can Help Stabilize the Climate

Peatlands make up 3 percent of the earth’s landscape, yet absorb large amounts of carbon and harbor surprising biodiversity. Although peat bogs and fens are under increasing environmental threat, efforts to protect and restore these ecosystems are gathering momentum.

Peatlands in northern Canada’s Mackenzie Valley, seen here in autumn. ED STRUZIK

The Aweme borer is a yellowish-brown moth with an inch-and-a half wingspan. In the often-colorful world of lepidopterology — the study of moths and butterflies — it’s not particularly flashy, but it is exceedingly rare. For decades, entomologists thought the moth lived in the sand dunes and oak savannahs in southern Manitoba and the Great Lakes region. Continue reading

Goats’ Appetites Put To Work

Goats made their first appearance in our pages as a matter of pure visual fun. Then there were several in a row that touched on companionship as well as culinary aspects. Finally one treated goats as workers.  That was five years ago. Today Coral Murphy Marcos tells the story, with photographs by Amanda Lucier, about a family, plus one intern, at the cutting edge of fighting fire with appetite:

The Unconventional Weapon Against Future Wildfires: Goats

When megafires burn in unison and harsh droughts parch the West, local governments, utilities and companies struggle with how to prevent outbreaks, especially as each year brings record destruction.

Carrying an unconventional weapon, Ms. Malmberg travels the American West in an Arctic Fox camper, occupying a small but vital entrepreneurial niche.

Ms. Malmberg, 64, is a goat herder and a pioneer in using the animals to restore fire-ravaged lands to greener pastures and make them less prone to the spread of blazes. Continue reading

Gerald Durrell, The Stationary Ark, And A 2021 Maverick

Gerald Durrell, somehow, has escaped mention in 11,281 previous posts over the last decade+ on this platform. Today is the day to begin correcting that oversight. His novelist brother Lawrence is worthy of his own post here another day. And the family name was recently popularized on television. While Gerald’s own legacy is not easy to categorize, a good starting point is to look at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and his related conservation work. Books are a big part of the legacy and the one to the right has had a tangible influence:

An Ark for Vanished Wildlife

Derek Gow’s maverick efforts to breed and reintroduce rare animals to Britain’s countryside.

Derek Gow wants his farm to be a breeding colony, a seedbed for a denuded island. Photograph by Jonny Weeks / eyevine / Redux

Derek Gow decided to abandon conventional farming about ten years ago, not long after the curlews left. At the time, Gow, who is thickset and white of beard, had a flock of fifteen hundred breeding ewes and a hundred and twenty cows, which he kept on a three-hundred-acre farm of heavy clay close to the border between Devon and Cornwall, in southwest England. He was renting an extra field from a neighbor, and a pair of curlews had come to forage for a few days. A farm worker spotted the distinctive brown birds; they have long beaks that slope downward, like violin bows. “He didn’t even recognize what they were,” Gow told me.

Curlews are Europe’s largest wading bird. Continue reading

Barred Owls & Other Bird Cam Wonders

If you enjoy this few minutes of video above, click the link below to see all the variety of bird cams that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has on tap:

2021 Barred Owl Season Highlights | Cornell Lab | Wild Birds Unlimited

184K subscribers
As winter fades each year, cam viewers anticipate the return of the Barred Owls to their springtime residence in Zionsville, Indiana. Activity at the nest box in late February signaled the owls’ preparations for the new breeding season. It wasn’t long before the female laid two pearly white eggs in the nest box in early March. Continue reading

Wheat 2 Schools

Harvesting Hard Red Spring wheat variety Summit 515 at Whitehead Elementary school in Woodland, California – the second school to grow wheat as part of the Wheat 2 Schools project. (Photo courtesy of Claudia Carter)

Thanks to Civil Eats, after a while, for bringing Nan Kohler and her mission to our attention:

The Next Chapter for Farm to School: Milling Whole Grains in the Cafeteria

Elementary students processing whole wheat pasta with the wheat they harvested that season from their school’s wheat garden.

A new project in California aims to purchase mills for school cafeterias, marking the next step in years-long effort to bring local, whole grains to schools around the country.

Nan Kohler founded the milling company Grist & Toll in Pasadena, California in 2013 and her freshly milled flours have been a hit with bakers, chefs, and locavores ever since. But her abiding wish is to sell California-grown, freshly milled whole grain flour, which is nutritionally superior to refined flour, to the public schools in the area. Continue reading

It’s Monday, So Pizza

A pizza in a wood-fired oven. All photographs by Nathan Myhrvold / The Cooking Lab, LLC.

Phaidon‘s books frequently allow us to offer a fun alternative to our heavier fare. Today is one of those days to go for the fun:

The surprising history of pizza

Modernist Pizza might apply the latest science to the pizzaiolos’ role, but it also dishes up deep history too

Pizza Margherita.

Modernist Pizza certainly applies a little science to the task of making a great slice. In this huge, comprehensive, three-volume publication, authors Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya share innumerable practical tips and innovative techniques to create great pizzas. Myhrvold is Microsoft’s former Chief Technology Officer and studied under Stephen Hawking at the University of Cambridge, and so almost all of those tips and techniques aren’t simple repetitions of old hunches and dogma, but the product of numerous test-kitchen experiments. Want to know the precise effects of ageing on mozzarella? Or which parts of your oven really cook your pie? Then get this set of books. Continue reading

Alternative Incentives For Living With The Rainforest

Eliane Lima Oliveira, 30, learned how to collect rubber with her family of traditional rubber tappers

We have been neglecting excellent reporting in the Food & Environment Reporting Network over the last four years. Here is a good correction to the oversight. Our orientation to entrepreneurial conservation makes us cheer this on:

Can fashion help small farmers preserve the Amazon?

Many downplay capitalist solutions to conservation. But they could spark the wealth transfer needed to save the world’s largest rainforest.

By Brian Barth and Flávia MilhorancePhotography by Flávia Milhorance

Small farmer and rubber tapper, Rogerio Mendes, 23: “I have an inexplicable feeling inside the forest. Because it’s a feeling of happiness, but with agony and concern.”

On a rainy March afternoon, Rogério Mendes strides through the dripping vegetation of a tract of virgin Amazonian forest and stops at a tree with scars arranged in neat diagonal rows across its trunk. From his back pocket he produces a wood-handled tool with a blade on one end, called a cabrita, and cuts another diagonal line though the bark, beneath the others. A milky white goo—raw liquid latex—begins to trickle down this tiny canal and into a metal pail below. Continue reading

2021 Ignobles

Enjoy this webcast of the awards ceremony from a journal we can all respect for the quality of its investigative research, its creative approach to choosing prize winners, and most of all its capacity to produce laughter:

The 2021 Ig Nobel Prize winners

BIOLOGY PRIZE [SWEDEN]:
Susanne Schötz for analyzing variations in purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling, and other modes of cat–human communication.
REFERENCE: “A Comparative Acoustic Analysis of Purring in Four Cats,” Susanne Schötz and Robert Eklund, Proceedings of Fonetik 2011, Speech, Music and Hearing, KTH, Stockholm, TMH-QPSR, 51. Continue reading

Smart People Do Smart Things, Sometimes Very Late

BREAKING: After a decade of constant pressure by students, faculty, and alums,
@HARVARD
IS FINALLY DIVESTING FROM FOSSIL FUELS.

While Rupert Murdoch is not even worthy of the “too little too late” moniker, Harvard University is worthy of “better late than never:”

Triumph! Harvard Finally Divests From Fossil Fuel

The richest university in the world capitulates after a decade of activism

The end came, as ends often do, quietly: at midafternoon today Harvard president Larry Bacow released a letter to Harvard students, faculty, and alumni. He didn’t use the word ‘divestment’–that would have been too humiliating–but he did say that the richest university on earth no longer had any direct investments in fossil fuel companies, and that its indirect investments through private equity funds would be allowed to lapse. “HMC has not made any new commitments to these limited partnerships since 2019 and has no intention to do so going forward. These legacy investments are in runoff mode and will end as these partnerships are liquidated.” Continue reading

Orca On

The video above is the shortest, clearest primer we could find to explain how this machine technology works. With Orca now on we will get the chance to see how much promise this process holds for carbon capture’s machine approach versus the tree approach, which we now know needs some reconsideration:

World’s biggest machine capturing carbon from air turned on in Iceland

Operators say the Orca plant can suck 4,000 tonnes of CO2 out of the air every year and inject it deep into the ground to be mineralised

A worker on a CarbFix carbon injection well in Iceland in 2017. The company is involved in the new Orca plant designed to draw carbon dioxide out of the air and store it as rock. Photograph: Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

The world’s largest plant designed to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into rock has started running, the companies behind the project said on Wednesday.

The plant, named Orca after the Icelandic word “orka” meaning “energy”, consists of four units, each made up of two metal boxes that look like shipping containers.

Constructed by Switzerland’s Climeworks and Iceland’s Carbfix, when operating at capacity the plant will draw 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the air every year, according to the companies. Continue reading

Really, Rupert?

Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp, at a meeting of the World Economic Forum, January 30, 2009. MONIKA FLUECKIGER / WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

If we had a category called too little, too late, this man and his phenomenally profitable media empire would not even feature in it. He has done so much damage through his empire’s constant denialism of climate change that even one little act like this one would not be worthy. Australia is too fossil fuel friendly, for sure, but is small potatoes in the scope of Murdoch’s holdings and their relevance to the world. And it is not at all clear this move is genuine. It seems obvious that as more of the world believes its own eyes rather than what he has been selling, he needs to pivot. We should not reward such a pivot:

In Australia, Murdoch-Owned News Outlets Vow to Back Away From Climate Denial

Though long hostile toward climate science, News Corp Australia is planning an editorial campaign calling for a zero-carbon economy,The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Continue reading

Bitcoin’s Carbon Footprint Explained

Cryptocurrency’s immense carbon footprint has been well known since early on. What to do about it is the question. Getting a good answer to that question depends in part on understanding the nature of the problem. Read below for the clarity of the explanation on this topic, and let the illustrations make it that much clearer:

Bitcoin Uses More Electricity Than Many Countries. How Is That Possible?

Cryptocurrencies have emerged as one of the most captivating, yet head-scratching, investments in the world. They soar in value. They crash. They’ll change the world, their fans claim, by displacing traditional currencies like the dollar, rupee or ruble. They’re named after dog memes. Continue reading

Grounding The Carbon On Farmlands

Basalt is spread on the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation’s research cornfields in Illinois. JORDAN GOEBIG

Thanks to Yale e360:

How Adding Rock Dust to Soil Can Help Get Carbon into the Ground

Researchers are finding that when pulverized rock is applied to agricultural fields, the soil pulls far more carbon from the air and crop yields increase. More studies are underway, but some scientists say this method shows significant benefits for farmers and the climate.

Researcher Zack Kozma (left) gathers a water sample from a field where rock dust has been added to the soil at Cornell’s AgriTech Agricultural Experiment Station. GARRETT BOUDINOT; SOPHIE NASRALLAH

On a hot and humid August day near Geneva, New York, Garrett Boudinot stands in a field of hemp, the green stalks towering a foot or more over his 6-foot, 4-inch frame. Today, the mustached Cornell University research assistant will harvest six acres of the crop, weigh it in red plastic garbage bins, and continue to analyze the hundreds of water samples taken with measuring devices called lysimeters that have been buried in the field over the last three months.

A clump of soil containing rock dust. GARRETT BOUDINOT; SOPHIE NASRALLAH

Boudinot, part of a research team at Cornell University, will sweat through the next two days of field work to see whether an unusual component added to the soil earlier in the year helped increase yields and sequester carbon. This soil amendment “we just call lovingly ‘rock dust,’ which isn’t very descriptive,” says Boudinot. “But it’s really silicate rocks that have been pulverized to a fine powder.” Continue reading

Balancing Power On Climate

The main way to counter the malign power of vested interest is to meet organized money with organized people. Photograph by Nicole Neri / Bloomberg / Getty

For the entire run of his newsletter McKibben made this point over and over again, and now one final time from his unique platform at the New Yorker:

The Answer to Climate Change Is Organizing

Dealing with global warming is always going to be about the balance of power.

Amore personal note than usual this week, because this will be the last of these Climate Crisis columns I’ll write (though it’s not the end of my work for the magazine). I’m incredibly grateful to The New Yorker for letting me do them—and especially thankful for Virginia Cannon, who has edited them each week with grace and aplomb. Our run has overlapped almost perfectly with the course of the pandemic, and for me it’s been the perfect moment to sit back and appreciate and highlight the work of so many across the wide universe of activists, scientists, economists, and politicians who are taking on the deepest problem that humans have ever wandered into. I can’t overstate the comfort of that universe: it didn’t exist thirty-two years ago, when I started writing about climate change; its slow but inexorable rise has given me not just welcome company but real hope. I’ve particularly enjoyed “passing the mic” to many members of that gathering throng. Continue reading

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