Personal Approaches To Carbon Footprint Reduction

Recycle to save the planet? Photograph: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images

A public service request for your input, from the Guardian:

What is the single most effective thing I could do to reduce my carbon footprint?

The long-running series in which readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific and philosophical concepts

What is the single most effective thing I could do to reduce my carbon footprint? Without dying, preferably. Andrew Hufnagel, Caithness

Post your answers (and new questions) below or send them to nq@theguardian.com. A selection will be published on Sunday.

Food Waste Progress

Behind the scenes at CORe, Waste Management’s Central Organics Recycling facility in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where food waste is processed to be added to wastewater and turned into biogas and fertilizer. Photo by Saima Sidik.

Food waste has been a perennial topic in these pages since we started covering environmental issues.  Thanks to Gastropod for point us to the future of this topic:

Black Gold: The Future Of Food…We Throw Away

Food takes up more space in American landfills than anything else. About 30 to 40 percent of food produced in the US gets thrown away, rather than eaten. What’s more, putting all that rotting food inside landfills produces a lot of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Continue reading

Nature’s Energy Storage Potential

Decarbonization would be easier if we could bank clean energy for later. Illustrations by Hudson Christie

Thanks to Matthew Hutson for the article in the current edition of the New Yorker titled The Renewable-Energy Revolution Will Need Renewable Storage:

Can gravity, pressure, and other elemental forces save us from becoming a battery-powered civilization?

We need to vastly expand our energy-storage capacity if we’re to avoid climate catastrophe.

The German word Dunkelflaute means “dark doldrums.” It chills the hearts of renewable-energy engineers, who use it to refer to the lulls when solar panels and wind turbines are thwarted by clouds, night, or still air. On a bright, cloudless day, a solar farm can generate prodigious amounts of electricity; when it’s gusty, wind turbines whoosh neighborhoods to life. But at night solar cells do little, and in calm air turbines sit useless. These renewable energy sources stop renewing until the weather, or the planet, turns. Continue reading

Tidal Power

An impression of a £1.3bn tidal lagoon project, which the government refused to back in 2018. Photograph: Tidal Lagoon Power/PA

Most of our attention to ocean water is focused on the climate,  and the few renewable energy stories with oceans featured have been about offshore wind projects. Today’s news corrects the deficit of attention to the power of tidal waves:

Could Anglesey’s tidal energy project drive a new energy revolution?

Experts say Wales has huge potential for generating renewable marine power, yet, so far, ambitious schemes have been ignored

South Stack lighthouse on Holy Island, north Wales: construction on the island’s tidal stream project has just begun. Photograph: Getty Images

On the stunning and craggy coastline of Holy Island in north Wales, work has started on a construction project to generate energy from one of the world’s greatest untapped energy resources: tidal power.

The Morlais project, on the small island off the west of Anglesey has benefited from £31m in what is likely to be the last large grant for Wales from the European Union’s regional funding programme. It will install turbines at what will be one of the largest tidal stream energy sites in the world, covering 13 square miles of the seabed. Continue reading

Old Growth Forest Protection Schemes

Caryssa Rouser, a propagation specialist with Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, plants a sequoia tree in October, 2021, in Sequoia Crest, California. Noah Berger/AP

Old growth forests matter for so many reasons. Not least, biophilic reasons. But at this moment, we rightly pay more attention to their value with regard to urgent climate issues. Maddie Oatman makes a good case in this Mother Jones essay:

Why Old-Growth Forests Matter So Much in the Fight Against Climate Change

Biden’s executive order to preserve ancient trees is a big deal—but it could have gone further.

Few experiences have rendered me as awestruck as the winter morning I spent wandering through a grove of ancient sequoias, their sienna bark glowing against the snowy ground. Continue reading

Mosquito GMO News

Biotechnology firm Oxitec ran the first open-air test of genetically modified mosquitoes in the United States by placing boxes of its eggs in selected spots in the Florida Keys. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty

Genetically modified this and that have been concerns of ours for most of the time we have been posting on environmental issues and nature news. This news below may be the best test of how tolerant one might become about a technology that is inherently full of danger–of the unintended consequences variety more than the known in advance variety–and yet could tame some of the greatest natural pests that mankind suffers from:

Biotech firm announces results from first US trial of genetically modified mosquitoes

Oxitec reports that its insects behaved as planned — but a larger trial is needed to learn whether they can reduce wild mosquito populations.

Researchers have completed the first open-air study of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the United States. The results, according to the biotechnology firm running the experiment, are positive. But larger tests are still needed to determine whether the insects can achieve the ultimate goal of suppressing a wild population of potentially virus-carrying mosquitoes. Continue reading

More On Seed Banks

We have featured these banks before, but they are worthy of a more detailed inside look.

So, thanks to by Salomé Gómez-Upegui, Rita Liu and the Guardian. Their article, Seed banks: the last line of defense against a threatening global food crisis is full of images and written descriptions that put these banks in better perspective:

As climate breakdown and worldwide conflict continue to place the food system at risk, seed banks from the Arctic to Lebanon try to safeguard

As the risks from the climate crisis and global conflict increase, seed banks are increasingly considered a priceless resource that could one day prevent a worldwide food crisis. Continue reading

Innovative Illustration & Atmospheric Pressure

Source: Geophysical Research Letters.

Whenever we see advances in innovative illustration to better our understanding of phenomena, natural or otherwise, we note it here. Atmospheric pressure is something most of us have heard countless times, but not necessarily stopped to think what it is. Among other things, it is important. Also, it is understandable. If you have a couple minutes, watch this accessible animation of a natural phenomenon that does not get enough attention, and read the accompanying text:

‘It’s Super Spectacular.’ See How the Tonga Volcano Unleashed a Once-in-a-Century Shockwave.

By Aatish Bhatia and Henry Fountain

Produced by Aatish Bhatia and Sean Catangui

As shown in this visualization, based on a simulation created by Ángel Amores, a physical oceanographer at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies in Majorca, Spain, the shockwave took about 36 hours to circumnavigate the globe, spreading out in concentric rings from the volcano known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai and traveling at the speed of sound. The simulation was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in March. Continue reading

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers In Louisiana

Comparison of photographs taken of apparent ivory-billed woodpeckers in Louisiana from this study (A, D), with a colorized ivory-billed woodpecker, also from Louisiana (B), and a pale-billed woodpecker taken in Central America (C). Photograph: The Guardian

The title of this post should have a question mark at the end of it, or should be considered clickbait. For bird nerds this is likely not even news. But it is important in terms of natural history in general. Ivory-billed woodpeckers have been mentioned a couple of times in our pages; but the chance of seeing one these days was considered to be zero. We can now hope we were wrong about that:

Back from the dead? Elusive ivory-billed woodpecker not extinct, researchers say

An expedition to the forests of Louisiana say extinction of bird, last definitively seen in 1944, has been exaggerated

In terms of elusiveness, it is the Bigfoot or Loch Ness monster of the bird world, so rare and undetectable that the US government declared it extinct last year. But the ivory-billed woodpecker is, in fact, still alive and pecking in the forests of Louisiana, a team of researchers has claimed. Continue reading

Meat Me Half Way

Changing the way we eat to improve our lives and save our planet has been a common theme over the years on this platform. In case you missed yesterday’s post, this new book by Brian Kateman was mentioned in the newsletter:

We know that eating animals is bad for the planet and bad for our health, and yet we do it anyway. Ask anyone in the plant-based movement and the solution seems obvious: Stop eating meat.

But, for many people, that stark solution is neither appealing nor practical. Continue reading

Vagrancies Better Appreciated

A Stellar’s sea eagle, native to East Asia. Design Pics Inc./Alamy

These two themes, birds and their various forms of adaptation, make Marion Renault’s article These Birds Aren’t Lost. They’re Adapting a perfect fit for sharing here as an excerpt, and recommending that you read the story where it was published:

Bird-watchers love to see vagrants, or birds that have traveled far outside their range. But scientists say they have a lot to teach us in a world facing ecological change.

From what we can tell, the Steller’s sea eagle trekking across North America does not appear homesick.

The bird has strayed thousands of miles from its native range in East Asia over the last two years, roving from the Denali Highway in Alaska down to a potential sighting South Texas before moving eastward and back north to Canada and New England. Its cartoonish yellow beak and distinctive wing coloration recently attracted crowds of rapt birders to Maine before turning up on April Fools’ Day in Nova Scotia. Continue reading

Octopus As White Whale

Bret Grasse, a manager of cephalopod operations at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., with his charge, a lesser Pacific striped octopus.

Yesterday, a story about a small and late victory for whales. Today, a small victory for our other favorite sea creature, in the form of a search for the white whale equivalent among octopus:

A lab in Massachusetts may have finally found an eight-armed cephalopod that can serve as a model organism and assist scientific research.

From a first batch of seven wild Octopus chierchiae, Mr. Grasse and his colleagues have raised over 700 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The tank looked empty, but turning over a shell revealed a hidden octopus no bigger than a Ping-Pong ball. She didn’t move. Then all at once, she stretched her ruffled arms as her skin changed from pearly beige to a pattern of vivid bronze stripes.

“She’s trying to talk with us,” said Bret Grasse, manager of cephalopod operations at the Marine Biological Laboratory, an international research center in Woods Hole, Mass., in the southwestern corner of Cape Cod. Continue reading

Plastic Rings, Bygone Things

Plastic rings hold together sets of beer cans. GHI/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Why did it take this long, you might ask? It is not clear from this article. But that it is happening at all is surprising, so we hope it is correct to say better late than never: Soda and Beer Companies Are Ditching Plastic Six-Pack Rings

In an effort to cut down on plastic waste, packaging is taking on different forms that can be more easily recycled or that do away with plastic altogether.

The plastic rings ubiquitous with six-packs of beer and soda are gradually becoming a thing of the past as more companies switch to greener packaging. Continue reading

No Mow, Way To Go

A rusty patched bumble bee queen (Bombus affinis) feeds on a dandelion flower in Madison, Wis.

It may not be the only state doing something like this, but Wisconsin is clearly on to something, and leading an important movement in favor of some important wildlife that citizens can take action to protect.

Our thanks to Anne Readel and the New York Times for this story:

In Wisconsin: Stowing Mowers, Pleasing Bees

Can the No Mow May movement help transform the traditional American lawn — a manicured carpet of grass — into something more ecologically beneficial?

An unmown lawn in Appleton, Wis. By letting the grass grow long, plants typically identified as weeds were able to flower, providing important spring food for bees.

As I drove last May through Appleton, Wis., the small town offered up a series of idyllic scenes: children playing on tree-lined streets, couples walking their dogs, and all the while, the wind carrying the sweetness of spring.

But something was unusual here. The lawns of many of the homes were wild. Resembling miniature meadows, they sported long grass, bright yellow dandelions and carpets of purple creeping Charlie — a far cry from the traditional American lawn.

A brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis) flies toward clover in an unmown yard in Shorewood Hills, Wis.

These homes were not abandoned or neglected, and no stacks of newspapers festooned their porches. Rather, the city had asked residents to put away their lawn mowers for the month of May. This allowed plants typically identified as weeds — including violets, white clover and dandelions — to flower.

Appleton’s No Mow May initiative had a clear purpose: to save the bees — and not just honeybees (which are European imports), but also native bees, such as bumble bees, mining bees and sweat bees. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In New York City

If you have are in New York City with some time on your hands, immerse yourself in The Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope .

We who live in Costa Rica, or other places where orchids are abundant, are fortunate but can only dream of this sort of abundance on display in one location:

February 26 – May 1, 2022

10 a.m. – 6 p.m. | At the Garden

Experience Famed Designer Jeff Leatham’s Bold and Colorful Vision

The dazzling floral creations of Jeff Leatham, famed artistic director of the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris and floral designer to the stars, return for The Orchid Show’s 19th year. Continue reading

Youth & Perspective

It should not be this difficult to change viewpoints on an existential topic. But apparently it is. If it requires a new social media platform, and watching a few short, catchy videos, so be it:

A growing chorus of young people is focusing on climate solutions. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me.’”

Alaina Wood is well aware that, planetarily speaking, things aren’t looking so great. She’s read the dire climate reports, tracked cataclysmic weather events and gone through more than a few dark nights of the soul. Continue reading

Stewart Brand In Perspective

Stewart Brand Ted Streshinsky/Getty Images

He has been mentioned in our pages three times before today. Now, on the fourth occasion, it is about Stewart Brand’s Long, Strange Trip:

In 1966, Stewart Brand was an impresario of Bay Area counterculture. As the host of an extravaganza of music and psychedelic simulation called the Trips Festival, he was, according to John Markoff’s “Whole Earth,” “shirtless, with a large Indian pendant around his neck … and wearing a black top hat capped with a prominent feather.” Four decades later, Brand had become a business consultant. Continue reading

How Do We Love Thee, Forests, Let Us Count The Ways

Forests, such as this one in Indonesia, do lmore than just store carbon. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

It may sound obvious, but until now it was not quantified: The world’s forests do more than just store carbon, new research finds

New data suggests forests help keep the Earth at least half of a degree cooler, protecting us from the effects of climate crisis

The world’s forests play a far greater and more complex role in tackling climate crisis than previously thought, due to their physical effects on global and local temperatures, according to new research. Continue reading

Close The Hose Of Fossil Fuel Cash

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said fossil-fuel funding ‘has been used to compromise leading academic institutions’. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Hats off to Michael Mann and colleagues for this determination:

Universities must reject fossil fuel cash for climate research, say academics

Open letter from 500 academics likens fossil-energy funding of climate solutions to tobacco industry disinformation

Universities must stop accepting funding from fossil fuel companies to conduct climate research, even if the research is aimed at developing green and low-carbon technology, an influential group of distinguished academics has said. Continue reading